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A Stroll At Leisure With God

A Significant Spiritual Time in the Chemo Room

As I arrived at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center yesterday, I was shocked. Allison was back!

I mentioned this a couple of months ago. It was my understanding that she was resigning in order to be available to give care to her ailing father who lives in the Bay Area. This may have indeed been the case, but for whatever reason, she is now back and working. It was great to see her.

I asked about her father. Apparently, he is still isn’t doing that well, but others in the family are assuming more responsibility. Maybe this is the reason she is back. I honestly did not have time for a real lengthy conversation because she was busy and it was my time to head back to get checked out and get my port accessed.

I had another good visit with the doctor. I’m glad he didn’t say anything about my cancer coming back. I’m always now prepared to hear that. He was upbeat, asserting that I was doing well. He indicated that there was a significant study that had come out recently on my type of cancer and the best treatment for it. He added, “John, what we are doing with you is touted in this study as the best way to treat your cancer, so that is something to feel good about.” Absolutely. Amen. Give God the glory.

When I got to the chemo room, it was a classic example of hurry up and wait. My nurse for the day (if I can put it that way) was Shannon. She said, “John, it might be a little bit of a wait and the possibility exists that we won’t even be able to do your treatment today because your insurance has not given us the approval yet, but we are working on it. Hopefully this can be resolved and we can get you going.” Hopefully.

This is a reminder that once again—everything, I mean absolutely everything, is insurance-driven. And I guess when you are talking about tens of thousands of dollars PER treatment, it has to be because, let me check my wallet, I don’t have the cash in my pocket just to tell them, “Oh, forget about it. Just go ahead and do the treatment that the Lord is using to keep my cancer at bay. I’ll just write you a check. Thanks.”

Okay, I’m going to resist the temptation—and it is very difficult to do so at this point—to go on a tirade about health insurance and about the fact that everything that is floating out there right now is absolutely NOT going to address the escalating costs of health care. I’m tired of “solutions” that are not solutions at all. I’m living right in the middle of all of it.

Plus, as I was sitting there, waiting for treatment (and I don’t normally do this while I am in this room for many reasons), I received a call from a pastor friend of mine. He said that his wife last Friday had what they now consider to be a mini-stroke.

I replied, “Well, what did the doctor say?” His answer, “Well, we didn’t go to the doctor because we don’t have health insurance and my wife would not let me take her to the emergency room. We just can’t afford it.”

Are you kidding me? As strongly as I could, while I was sitting in that room, without raising my voice, I urged him, “If she had a stroke, you HAVE to go to the doctor. You must take her. I’m not doctor, certainly. But if it was a mini-stroke, it could signal worse issues that could be very serious.” He agreed. I told him I would pray for him and we ended the call.

About that time, Shannon came up to me—they got insurance approval—and she started my treatment.

I think I have said this before, but here is the regimen. First, they give me a steroid. When I have ingested it through my port, then they give me Benadryl. Finally, and this is the one that takes three to four hours, they administer Rituxan—a protein.

Even though the main drug is Rituxan, the other two are the ones that give me the most problem. The Benadryl makes me want to sleep during the treatment and through the daylight hours. I wish it carried over to the nighttime, but then, the steroid kicks in and usually, I don’t sleep a wink for at least two to three nights.

Strange. Very strange. But this is what makes even these maintenance treatments a challenge to tolerate. They seem to be getting more and more difficult as time goes on. Plus, I think it is just the huge quantity of medicine that they give you. Those bags of Rituxan appear to be getting larger and larger. In our “take a pill” culture, this is hard for anyone who has not had chemo to understand. I don’t blame them. I didn’t either before having to do this now for almost two years.

Back to my talk with the doctor, I mentioned this to him, and he said, “Well, John, I think it is more the psychological effect of coming here to this office and continuing to take these treatments. I think your body is saying that you want to be done.”

I agree with that, for sure.

I did something a little different yesterday. I drank a lot more water. This seemed to help me stay awake better while I was getting treatment. I was more alert than I think I have ever been at the center. When I got home, I still crashed. But I was not as sleepy.

Anyway, all of this lays the groundwork for what I want to share today. I brought my laptop and a commentary on 2 Corinthians into the chemo room. For the past week, I have been wrestling with the sixth chapter. I just haven’t felt that I got a hold of its message—until yesterday in the chemo room.

I won’t lay everything that I learned on you in this venue. You have to come to church for that! But I honestly believe that Lord orchestrated the delay and my more alert state (of course) to get me in a position to hear from Him.

The basic gist of the message was this: I have been so concerned about leading the church to reach the community and adopting an unreached, unengaged people group on the other side of the world, that I personally as pastor have neglected the purity of the church. 2 Corinthians 6:1-7:1 is all about this. And, as I sat there yesterday, the Lord burdened me about this issue.

I’m still meditating about it this morning: what exactly is the purity of the church? This can’t mean the sinless perfection of its membership. It must mean something else. This is what I am asking the Lord to show me, and then, of course, what we need to do about it.

I do know this. How the church operates MATTERS. This is why Paul takes such great care in the way the famine relief offering is administered: "But I am sending these brothers to be sure you really are ready, as I have been telling them, and that your money is all collected. I don’t want to be wrong in my boasting about you. We would be embarrassed—not to mention your own embarrassment—if some Macedonian believers came with me and found that you weren’t ready after all I had told them!" (2 Corinthians 9:3, 4 NLT)

Back to yesterday, in this particular commentary, the writer referenced a book by Stanley Hauerwas (a well-known Christian ethicist) and William Willimon (a famous preacher). When I woke up from my crash yesterday evening, I downloaded this book on my Ipad. The title is Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony. It is available on Amazon. This book gives even more impetus to this burden the Lord has given me.

All of this to say, I firmly believe that this is one of the reasons that the Lord allowed me to get cancer. There are some things He needed me to hear and as a result, write and preach about (it is both—WRITE and PREACH) that He could reveal to me in no other place but in the chemo room of a cancer center. Even there. Even then.

I go back to my early concepts of what I would be doing in that room—throwing up my socks and/or serving as a kind of male version of Florence Nightingale, ministering to the other cancer patients. Ha. It has been exactly the opposite. That room has been more about—all about, as a matter of fact, God ministering to me.

This is intensified because, again, most, if not all of the people in that room, are a lot sicker than I am.

Oh, Lord, thanks for a hard but great day yesterday. Thank you for what you are teaching me. Give me ears to hear you.

I lift up my pastor friend and his wife.

I lift up the folks that were in that chemo room yesterday.

Help me to be the pastor I need to be. Give me the strength and the energy to make it through.

“My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride” (“The Wonderful Cross,” BH 2008, 239). Amen.
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Still in Shock and a Maintenance Treatment Today

The longer this goes, the more it catches me off guard: I have to go in for a maintenance treatment today! Wow. Please pray that I tolerate it better than I did the last two treatments where I got really tired and then caught some sort of virus.

I will tell you, though. I will go into it with a little less weight on my shoulders.

“Why?” you may be asking.

Well, I have to tell you about yesterday’s special business meeting. Looking back on the past week, as far as my emotions are concerned, I now realize that my anticipation of this meeting was similar to the second blood test I took. I now know that it was weighing on me.

Frankly, I was anticipating some conflict and a long, drawn-out meeting. Everyone on the Vision Team was expecting it.

When the service closed, about fifty of us migrated to the youth room. As we arrived, I noticed that a couple in our church—James and Anne—had provided little bottles of water and granola bars for everyone. Wasn’t that great? This was a small gesture, but I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it this morning. This is typical of the way this couple serves God. It was another factor in the way things turned out. I am confident of this.

We waited a bit for everyone to arrive and then the meeting started. There were three recommendations from the Vision Team.

Let me stop and explain what the Vision Team is. The idea was birthed through the time I spent in prayer during chemotherapy. I just felt that it was time for a re-visioning of the ministry of the church after our 50th Anniversary celebration and my cancer diagnosis in July of 2010. But I didn’t want that to be a “one man show.” As a result, the Lord gathered some folks together and for the past year or so, we have just been talking about ways we can improve our mission of reaching people, especially younger people and families for Jesus.

Some things have already happened as a result of God working through these folks.

Back to yesterday—we had three recommendations. As I was praying about the meeting yesterday and our outreach as a congregation, something dawned on me. It just seems more and more difficult to seek ways of joining the Lord in outreach these days. Knocking on doors, sending out fliers, and big events seem to be very ineffective, but what occurred to me was: we have a primo opportunity with folks that come through the door of the church.

If we can just seek ways for the Lord to use us in encouraging a greater percentage of folks just to come back a second time, we would reach more people! This certainly does not replace actually going out into the community, but it should be the bedrock of what we do.

And honestly, for one reason or another, many who visit lately are not coming back for a second visit.

Back to yesterday, I started off the meeting talking about this. We prayed. And then we handed out a sheet of paper with three recommendations on it: remodeling our foyer to make it more of a Welcome Center, a new playground area and set in the back of our church property, and last but not least, a new sound system. The sum total of these recommendations was about $60,000—a lot of money, especially for our congregation.

Two folks on the Team—Bill and Patty—made the recommendations about the foyer and the playground. We had some discussion about both of these issues, but it did not last long.

Then, we came to the sound system recommendation. This was the one the Team and I were worried about. In and of itself, it compromised the vast majority of the total amount of money. It was over $47,000.

In my mind, I could just see folks freaking out. “47,000 for a sound system? Are you kidding? We don’t need that. We can’t afford that!”

I was so apprehensive about it that I invited the owner of the company who would be installing the new system. Roland was glad to come. I certainly appreciated that. I was glad that he was there to answer any technical questions people might have.

Plus, we did not make all the details of the bid available to everyone, although I asked Betty to print a few hard copies of the bid in case anyone would like to see them.

I’m sure, at this point, many of you might be asking, “What is the big deal? It is just a business meeting.”

Well, I have learned the hard way that a lack of preparation is a killer in these types of settings. When I first started as pastor over twenty years ago, I would just have an idea and take it to the church and after getting blasted, take a few months to recover. And finally, something stirred in me: I’m never going into another business meeting with crucial proposals without a lot of prayer and a ton of preparation.

I made that decision over a decade ago. Then, I learned: one can still get blown out of the water and get involved in a marathon meeting.

We certainly have had our share. That’s for sure. I have some very unpleasant memories of some of those meetings. They have aged me perhaps more than anything else. I shudder when I think of some of them.

On the one hand, it is total exhausting and sometimes, very frustrating. No matter how much work a team does, there are still folks who question it and want to dissect things to pieces.

But on the other hand, that just goes with the territory when you have congregational polity as a church. As cumbersome as it is at time, I still believe that it is the best form of church government because it involves people in the decision-making process. When folks are involved, they are more likely to have buy-in.

As I say this, I realize that larger congregations have to operate a little differently.

Back to yesterday, we had some questions—very good inquiries, I might add. At one point, I asked Roland to answer a question. After about two sentences of his response, it was very clear that he knew what he was talking about. I think this was clear to everyone.

We had a rather brief but very positive conversation, and then the room grew silent. “Are we ready to vote?” Everyone nodded his/her head. We passed out paper ballots. People marked them. Handed them to me as they filed out. People were laughing and conversing with one another. I asked Bill to tabulate the results. Unanimous—in favor of all three recommendations!

The members of the Vision Team high-fived each other. We were and probably still are—in a state of shock.

To what do we attribute this meeting and the results? And I mean this from the bottom of my heart—God. Pure and simple. In spite of everything I said about what I did and what others did—God gets the glory.

The fact is, and it has been this way from the beginning, the work of God cannot occur without the positive participation of God’s people. I am thanking God for everyone in our congregation who was in that meeting yesterday and participated in a positive, encouraging way.

Paul counted on this participation as well in the offering he was collecting. "We are also sending another brother with Titus. All the churches praise him as a preacher of the Good News. He was appointed by the churches to accompany us as we take the offering to Jerusalem—a service that glorifies the Lord and shows our eagerness to help. We are traveling together to guard against any criticism for the way we are handling this generous gift" (2 Corinthians 8:18-20 NLT).

Who was this brother? Why didn’t Paul name him? He named Titus. Why not this other brother?

Who knows? God. God knows who this is.

Lord, I thank you for yesterday from the bottom of my heart. You did it. And I am deeply grateful to you and everyone involved.

O me of little faith. I confess my unbelief and worry.

This church and everyone in it—its present and future—is in your hands.

I trust you to take care of things today.

“A home within the wilderness,
A rest upon the way” (“Beneath the Cross of Jesus,” BH 2008, 238). Amen.
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The Amazing Provision of God

It is never easy to talk about money. Never. But here is what I have discovered: if someone else does it—a “normal” or “regular” person—then it seems to be more effective.

I’m supposed to talk about it. I am a preacher.

But the testimony and challenge of a “lay person” (I hate that term but I will use it here) is very powerful.

In our three-month stewardship class for adults at church, one of the most effective aspects of Al’s teaching was his own testimony of failure and how the Lord turned things around for him. Now, he is one of the most generous givers in our fellowship. I say this, not because I know what he gives (I make it a practice not to know what anyone gives) but because he always steps up to help out when there is a need and tells me he is willing to take care of it.

Back to the point—Paul adheres to this principle in 2 Corinthians 8. In the first half of the chapter, he uses three very powerful examples to spur the church on. The first is the churches of Macedonia. This group of congregations was very poor, poor as Job’s turkey, but they were very generous.

The second example was Jesus Christ. He, on the other hand, was rich in His identity as God at the right hand of the Father, but He willingly became poor through his incarnation, life on earth, crucifixion, and death so that through His resurrection, we might become rich.

The third example hearkens back to the days of the wilderness wanderings of the people of Israel. As you remember, at one point in the journey (this was not the only time it happened), they started to whine and complain about the lack of food. Moses called out to the Lord. The Lord responded. He sent “manna” or “what is it?” from heaven. It just dropped out of the sky ever day.

Can I stop right there? I’ve often tried to imagine what on earth that looked like. And the only thing that comes to mind is one of those snowstorms where fluffy, big flakes fall very slowly. This tends to be the way it snows in October and November here in Colorado. (Oh, man, I can’t think about it!).

But this type of miraculous “snowstorm” of food—sure it wasn’t fancy, hence, the name “what is it?”—occurred every day. But there were explicit instructions. The Lord told each family to take as much as they needed but only for one day, two days on the eve of the Sabbath. That was it. Very simple.

But of course, some defied this command and the record in Exodus says that their food rotted. The narrative in Exodus concludes with this statement: "After this the people gathered the food morning by morning, each family according to its need. And as the sun became hot, the flakes they had not picked up melted and disappeared" (Exodus 16:21 NLT).

Again, I say that this is amazing, in and of itself. It should have closed the mouths of the whiners and silenced any thought of going back to Egypt, but of course, it didn’t. But that is another story.

It is significant to me that Paul appeals to this very well known story (at least to the Jews in the church in Corinth) as an incentive for giving, but he does it in a little different way. Here is Paul’s quote from Exodus 16:18: "As it is written, ‘Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack’” (2 Corinthians 8:15 ESV).

Of course, these two chapters are about a special offering he is collecting for the famine stricken church in Jerusalem. I’ll say more about this in a later post.

Here is the connection: in the Exodus story, the equality had to do with the level of provision—whether it was a big family or small family, there was always enough.

In Paul’s case, as he makes an appeal for this special offering, he asserts that it was this Jerusalem church (the REAL first church) that provided for this church in Corinth to get it started. In short, their “abundance” met Corinth’s need, but later, when the folks in Jerusalem were going through tough times, the “abundance” of Corinth and the other churches in Asia Minor met the First Church need.

We have a saying for this type of thing: “what goes around, comes around.”

I have seen this over and over in my personal finances as well as those of the church. It is amazing to see how the Lord provides as I continue to give to Him. And, for First Southern, the Lord provides for us as we stay faithful.

For example, one family whose son goes to our church designated a special offering at the funeral of the dad a couple of months ago. John and I drove up to Evergreen to attend the service. It was at a Catholic church. But in the program, there was a very brief statement: “in lieu of flowers, please make a donation to the First Southern Baptist Church of Northglenn.”

People we don’t even know gave money, and the family said, “Use it however you would like.” Okay.

Therefore, we are using this money to renovate the foyer of church to turn it into a welcome center. Paid for by people we don’t even know!

Again, God, you are amazing. Thank you again for the good results on that second blood test. I’m still praising you for that. Thank you for the provision of breakfast this morning and a roof over my head and clothes on my back.

Thank you for Jesus and salvation. Where would I be without Him today? Thank you for saving my family and I’m glad my dad is in heaven with you. Thank you for my church family.

I give you the services today. Thank you for the Korean sister who will be singing in the English speaking service today. Sing through her. I pray for the special business meeting after the service today in which we will be discussing the foyer and other expenditures. I pray that people would never forget the amazing provision of God!

“I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me,
A sinner condemned unclean” (“I Stand Amazed in the Presence,” BH 2008, 237). Amen.
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The Lifter

“But thou oh Lord are a shield for me
You're my glory, the lifter up of my head” (“Thou Art A Shield for Me,” www.lyriczz.com, accessed July 28, 2012).

This chorus comes to mind this morning as the Holy Spirit pulls some things together for me today. I will get to that in a moment, but first, I want to share a couple of things.

First, late yesterday afternoon, I got a call from the doctor’s office—the results of my second blood test. Praise the Lord! Dr. Kinsler’s assistant Amber told me that all my levels were normal.

It is one of those things that you don’t think you are worried about until you get the news and you feel a load removed, and you realize, “Yeah, that WAS on my mind.”

Now, with the physical health issue settled, I can move on to other things that need to be addressed.

By the way, this is my standard procedure with folks who come to me and they are struggling. The first thing I tell them to do is to go to the doctor and get checked out. This is always the first touch point. Once that is settled, then we can move on to spiritual, emotional, and/or mental issues.

As I am continuing to deal with the “ministry issue,” this is the plan of attack for me.

Anyway, thank you for praying for me.

Here is another benefit of a lot of people praying: things get resolved faster! I’m not kidding. I’ve seen it over and over. I honestly believe that I would not have received the news of this second test until next week had it not been for the prayers of God’s people. It took the doctor’s office several days to get back to me after the first test. There you go!

The second thing I want to share is that I believe Mike finally got on his bus yesterday evening. We had another long talk yesterday afternoon. The Lord is already using him in ministry here to his family and a Native American who ended up driving him to the bus station yesterday. This is a huge encouragement.

When I kind of settled down from all the stuff yesterday, I realized that it was just another satanic attack. Of course. Sure. The enemy does not want any new churches started to reduce the number of his kids.

I’m learning this over the years. Maybe this is part of the reason things have been so tough for me personally the past few weeks. We are continuing to try to plant a church in Federal Heights and now this Native American work. Every time we take a step in that church planting direction, it feels that the temperature of the stove notches up.

Paul makes this clear in Ephesians 6. The battlefield is prayer. But what specifically is the content of that prayer? Paul is very explicit: "And also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak" (Ephesians 6:19, 20 ESV).

Third, and this leads me to the passages for today. Over the past couple of days, I have spoken to two pastor friends. They are both literally at the end of their respective ropes. And I mean I am worried about both of them.

They are both in a position where they need to make some urgent decisions and fast.

I’ve said the same thing to both of them, “Don’t do what I did. Don’t just keep ignoring stuff and pushing yourself forward. You will not end up in a good place. Something is going to give.”

I cannot tell you how much these two conversations have been on my mind and heart. I’m so burdened for these two guys.

As a result, several questions come to mind: I wonder how many pastors across this nation and across the world are in the same boat? I bet, if we really knew, it would be a staggering number.

My second question is: why is this so?

Can I be honest at this point? I believe that most folks in churches don’t want to believe that their pastor is human.

Plus, they think he has a rather cushy job and don’t have a whole lot of sympathy. Many would say that he doesn’t work enough as it is. “Buck up.” “I work 80 hours a week and you are complaining?” “Boo, hoo. Too bad.”

My third question is: where does a pastor go when he is struggling? Really. Think about it. Where? I would not recommend going to people in the church you serve or you may get fired. For anyone who is reading this and disagrees . . .

Here is my fourth question I would like to stand up and ask the American church: if you knew that your pastor was almost at the end of his rope—that he was not very far not only from quitting the job but also never working in a church ever again—what would you do?

I know some of the answers I might receive: tell him that he is doing a good job; send him a word of encouragement; give him a vacation; and et cetera. You know, all those things and the “et cetera” part are good, but I don’t think that is the answer. I really don’t.

Here is the way I would respond if I were in a church and I knew my pastor was at the end of his rope: I would make sure I communed with Jesus in the Word and in prayer every day; I would seek to serve the Lord with a renewed sense of passion and commitment; and I would pray for my pastor.

And, maybe I would add this: I would make sure I cared about reaching lost folks and doing whatever it takes to do that, more than I cared for my own comfort, convenience, and opinions about what I think the church ought to do.

The fact is: whether we are pastors or not, we need to guard against debilitating discouragement by going to the Lord and trusting him.

I just realized it this morning. There is a recurring theme in the last three Psalms I have read of the past couple of days. See if you can pick it up. I’m going to quote a couple of verses from the Psalm I read today, first. Then, I am going to cite two verses from Psalm 145 and 146, respectively.

"Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. The Lord lifts up the humble; he casts the wicked to the ground" (Psalm 147:5, 6 ESV).

"The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down" (Psalm 145:14 ESV).

"The Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous" (Psalm 146:8 ESV).

Did you notice it? One of the Lord’s specialties is His ability to LIFT. The Lord “lifts up the humble.” The Lord “raises up all who are bowed down.” The Lord “lifts up those who are bowed down.”

Here is my challenge to everyone reading this blog today: pray right now for your pastor. Right now. Pray for every leader in your church—everyone whom you believe has his or her “act” together because they don’t!

God, I pray that you would lift up pastors everywhere. I pray for my two friends this morning. I pray for everyone who is reading this blog who is down. LIFT them up, O Lifter. Amen.
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Going On or Going Back

Good news! It was exciting. Yesterday, one paperback copy and one hardcopy proof of my book arrived at my mom’s house! I’m still kind of in shock about it. I still can’t believe I am holding copies of my book!

Last night, Marilyn took the hard copy and my mom took the paperback and they are reading through each one. The whole point of this process is to check to make sure there are no printing errors.

But here is the disturbing thing: Marilyn has already found three rather significant errors that I somehow missed as I was reading and rereading the galley proof! I can’t tell you how frustrating this is to me because I must have read it twenty times. My mistake was that I didn’t ask them to check the galley proof. Now, if make corrections, it is going to cost me a couple of hundred bucks—something like that.

I tell you: I had no idea about everything that goes into the publication of a book. This has been a terribly protracted process. I hope I have learned some lessons as I am already at work on book number two.

Again, as I have written before, I am not going to go the self-publishing route on this one. We will see what happens.

I tell you about the arrival of the printed copies of my book to set the stage for another lesson the Lord is teaching me.

At the same time all of this was happening, I was dealing with an extremely frustrating situation. We had purchased a round trip ticket for Mike, the Native American gentleman the Lord brought to our church. We bought this ticket to bring Mike to Denver while Emerson was here so they could meet and talk.

Mike got on the bus in Omaha at 9:45 PM and rode it all night, arriving in Denver yesterday morning at 6:30 or so. A friend of his picked him up at the bus station, and he met with Emerson later in the day. No problem.

But yesterday afternoon, Mike went back to the bus station to get his return ticket and the folks at the Burlington Trailways counter told him he didn’t have one. He called me. I was unavailable in the early afternoon. So, he phoned the church to tell Betty of his dilemma. She tried to contact the bus company and couldn’t get things resolved.

By the time I got Mike’s message, it was late afternoon. I returned Mike’s call and told him that I had indeed purchased a round-trip ticket. I told him to go back to the station and simply tell them this.

When he did, they informed him that he did not have a round trip ticket! What? I found the 800 number for the bus company and called them. After investigation, the lady on the other end of the line said, “Oh, sorry, Mr. Talbert, we made a mistake on Mr. Merrival’s ticket.” She corrected the problem. I got a hold of Mike. By then, he was leaving the bus station with his friends. I urged him to go back to the station and get his ticket.

By then, his bus back to Omaha had already left. He will have to leave tomorrow.

Mike seemed to take all of this in stride.

Me? Anything but that. I found my blood pressure and frustration rising almost to the boiling point.

Here I am fussing and fuming about all of this as my mom and sister are proofing the hard copies of my book. They could see the stress written all over my life last night.

At one point, Marilyn said, “John, do want to know what the problem is?”

“What” I snapped back.

“You aren’t doing this.” She held up my book and pointed to a page.

Gulp. Right.

It was about this time two years ago that I got the news that I had cancer. And the Lord finally had me in a spot where I could learn about all the destructive attitudes and actions and reactions of my life and ministry.

Last night, I was right back to the pre-cancer days with a snap of the finger.

This whole blood test thing—I got another one yesterday—is a slap in the face, and a warning (if I will heed it) to be careful.

Back to last night, when Marilyn pointed at my own words and those lessons I supposed learned, it was very sobering—very.

This morning as I sit here, I felt the urgency to come back to God, confessing my sin and embracing this loving God WHO ACTS ON BEHALF OF HIS KIDS. The verses I cite below give eight things the Lord does for His children.

"Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin" (Psalm 146:5-9 ESV).

This morning, I trust Him and embrace each one, especially the “lifts up those who are bowed down” part.

Lord, I praise you. I worship you this morning. You are indeed a God who acts on behalf of His children, and I “are” one of them.

I confess the sin of allowing my frustration and worry to get to the boiling point. I realize that I just cannot allow myself to get to the level of stress I got to last night. HELP me with this, Lord.

I choose to grow, to go on. Help me never to go back.

Thank you for Mike. Thanks for allowing him to come to Denver and meet with Emerson. Give him a safe trip back to Omaha tonight. I trust you to take care of his ticket and his trip. “You watch over the sojourners.” Amen.
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Blood Test

Last Friday, I went to see my primary care physician. I chronicled this visit in one of my blogs a few days ago. One of the things he did was ask me to get a blood test.

Yesterday morning, somehow, with my cell phone sort of near me, I missed a call from the doctor and one from his assistant. The message from the doctor was, “Hey John. Dr. Kinsler here. No emergency, but I just want to talk with you about the results of your blood test. Give me a call.”

The message from his assistant was a little more urgent: “John, the doctor needs to speak with you.”

So, before I headed to the church, I called the doctor, left a message, and waited to hear back. I wasn’t a long wait. His assistant said, “John, everything checked out well on your test, but your calcium level was a little high and the doctor wants to talk with you about it. Can he call you at 12:15?” Sure, no problem.

At this point, I was getting a little concerned. Honestly, I wasn’t worried. I was just wondering, “What on earth is going on here? For something that isn’t an emergency, they are sure making a lot of effort.”

When I finally was able to talk with the doctor at the office, he explained, “John, your calcium level is a little elevated. I called your oncologist to check on the results of recent blood tests you have taken there, and he indicated that it was within normal ranges. Plus, there is a kidney test (I can’t remember the technical name for it) that was slightly high also. Both of these taken together may indicate that you are a little dehydrated. You need to drink more water.”

“Dr. Kinsler,” I replied, “I drink so much water that I feel I am going to float away, as a general rule, but looking back on last Friday, I did play golf earlier in the day before I came to the office, and maybe I was a little dehydrated.”

He listened to my rather long-winded and convoluted response and stated, “Well, I think we ought to retest you just to make sure. These two areas are not way out of whack—just a little high—but let’s do another test just to make sure. Can you make an appointment to come in for another test tomorrow?”

Sure. I’m going in at 10:00 this morning.

What is all of this about? First, I really don’t think this is any big deal. Second, I am not worried. This really has nothing to do with anything related to cancer.

BUT, having said all of that, I am realizing that one of the legacies of cancer is that I will never be dismissive or cavalier about any health issue EVER AGAIN. I’m going to stay on top of things and go to the doctor and do what he says. PERIOD.

I guess there is a fine line between concern and paranoia. I don’t think I have crossed over to the paranoia side, but maybe a little bit of that would be better than the way I was before I got diagnosed. I just blew off health issues. I tried to ignore them, and I pushed on.

Well, anyway, I will let you know about the results of this second blood test. It may take a few days. Who knows? But just to be safe: I am drinking a ton of water this morning, even more than usual. Can’t hurt, right?

Enough of that.

Yesterday, Jim and I drove to Louisville (not Kentucky, but the suburb of Boulder. The Colorado city pronounces the “s,” whereas the Kentucky city does not) to visit with Richard. He is in hospice.

I have mentioned him before in this blog. He responded almost daily to my blog entries when I was first diagnosed and went through chemo. He is a dear brother that the Lord brought to our congregation as an encourager. As I was telling Jim yesterday as we drove away, I wish more folks in our church could have known him better.

Things don’t look good for Richard. As we went into his room, he was asleep. When we woke him, he seemed glad to see us but it was evident that he was very drowsy. He could barely keep his eyes open. We greeted him and prayed with him and told him we loved him and promptly left.

Since that visit, I find myself getting emotional when I think about him. I’m going to miss him. He is the type of guy that could always give me a straightforward and level headed Christian response when I talked with him about stuff at church.

He would listen to my rants and then say, “Well, John, the Lord can take care of that. Just keep on doing a good job.”

Every pastor needs someone like Richard, but the “Richards” in the church are a rare breed. To be honest, and this is no knock against anyone because all of us have different gifts, I have had very few friends like him in all the years I have served this congregation. I just don’t feel comfortable being brutally honest with how I am feeling about stuff at church with most people. I just don’t think it is appropriate. But I did with Richard.

Please pray for him and his family. They don’t expect him to live much longer.

I appreciate the fact that today, I read Psalm 145. It starts off with large and grandiose language about our Big God. But then, it makes a transition of sorts to describe how our Lord is also a Small God. He is as small as the smallest of our needs. Even our small needs are big and important to Him. "The LORD helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads" (Psalm 145:14 NLT).

He cares about blood tests. He cares about us all the way to the end of our lives.

Lord, you are awesome. Thank you for taking care of me from birth right up to this present day. I have no reason to doubt that you will take care of this second blood test today. Piece of cake for you.

I lift up my brother Richard. Thank you so much for him. Of course, I want him to stay around longer FOR ME. I acknowledge my selfishness in that regard.

BUT FOR HIM, I pray that he would not have to suffer long. Give him comfort and rest today. I lift up his family as well.

“How marvelous!
How wonderful!
Is my Savior’s love for me!” (“I Stand Amazed in the Presence,” BH 2008, 237). Amen.
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Emerson and Native Americans

The longer I sit here and reflect this morning, the more I am thankful for the deep encouragement I received from the Lord yesterday. Some of this is going to sound rather self-centered, I realize. I don’t mean it to come across that way.

Maybe it will help if I give you some context.

It seems to be one of those seasons in the life of our church where people seem to be drifting away. I have mentioned this before but, over the past few months, several families have just moved on or moved. This has not been negative, for the most part. It is just something that has happened.

Other families seem to be drifting away. Their attendance has lagged somewhat. Again, there are many reasons for this.

I’m speaking in generalities here.

The bottom line for us lately is that we have not seen the Lord replace those folks--yet. It seems that it is very easy for us to lose people, extremely difficult to reach folks—EXTREMELY.

A couple of things about this: I know we are not alone in this phenomenon. I realize this type of thing is happening all over, especially among SBC churches the size of First Southern on the north end of metro Denver. I know this because I talk to pastors and hear their angst.

The other thing is that I can understand why this is happening to some degree. I’m seeing it playing out right before my eyes.

The other day, I asked Betty to make me a list of everyone in our congregation who is serving in a least one job or ministry in the church. Yesterday, I received that list. Fifty-four names are on it. Fifty-four!

On one hand, that is really encouraging when you consider that our average attendance is somewhere around twice to three times that number (on a good Sunday, every once in a while). Good deal.

But on the other hand, it reinforces to me that an even smaller number of folks have multiple jobs and are carrying huge loads, not only in service, but also in giving.

I hasten to say that I do not know who gives what, but just looking at that list, I really don’t have to know those specifics.

Therefore, what happens is that people get tired. They burn out. The grow weary of carrying such a huge load in a church, and they just decide to leave and go somewhere where they can just be anonymous and let someone else carry the burden. Hence the migration of believers from smaller churches to larger churches.

A couple of years ago, my pastor friend Dan told me that he believes that, in the not-too-distant future, there will be really only two types of churches—house churches (those that are very small in number) and mega-churches (those that are very large). The in-between size church will just go away.

Back then, I sort of discounted his comments. Lately, however, I can honestly see how this could occur.

Back to the point—it is very difficult for any pastor who cares to see this occurring on his watch and not take it personally. I know it isn’t personal. I know it is happening all over the country. I know all the cliché statements (I’ve spouted them all to others), but somehow, lately, this has been weighing on me.

It is hard not to believe that I am part of this problem, and I’ve been struggling with a feeling of personal failure, and it weighs on me, day by day. And I have guilt over this feeling because of all that the Lord has done in my life personally through cancer. I still wrestle with these feelings when it comes to the church.

There, I said it.

I’ve been asking the Lord to help me—to give me some light, some type of break-through. I’m pleading with Him to show me where I have gone wrong and what I personally need to do. It is easy to point fingers at other people. I know that. But I have been praying and examining my own life.

Certainly, there are personal issues I need to work on, but what about the church? What is going on? Is it possible to see the ship turned around?

Back to yesterday—it hit me. Let me tell you the story.

I was involved in a lunch meeting with a brother and his family who have meant a lot to me. Emerson, a Native American himself, was the original director of the Rocky Mountain Campus of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary when it opened here in south Denver at the Colorado Baptist General Convention offices in the late 1990’s. Emerson asked me to teach preaching at the seminary and another course on worship. And he was a huge encourager for me in that regard.

But, the Lord led Emerson on to be a director of another school in Arizona and from there, he went back into the pastorate. He is the pastor of Glorietta Baptist Church in Oklahoma City—a congregation that is made up predominantly of Native American believers.

Not long ago, the Lord laid a burden to reach the Native American population here in Denver. This week, he brought a group of folks from his church in Oklahoma to help with this challenge. They are meeting Native Americans and inviting them to a special event this Thursday night. They have had good response so far.

As a part of his trip to Denver, Emerson asked Bob, our Director of Missions for the Mile High Association, if he could meet with pastors to discuss a partnership with his church in Oklahoma and concerned congregations in Denver to start plant a church to reach Native Americans.

I know I have mentioned this before, but estimates are that there are upwards of 45,000 Native Americans in metro Denver and no Southern Baptist work to reach them. Emerson told us yesterday that most people believe that Native Americans live on reservations, for the most part. This is simply not true. Most live in metro areas where the availability of jobs, education, and health care is more readily available.

He also told us that Denver has one of the largest Native American populations of any city in the United States.

Humm. I did not know this.

Thus, we had a meeting yesterday. Who do you think show up? Any of the mega-church SBC pastors in our city? Nope. A lot of churches seeking to be involved in reaching this large segment of our population? Nope.

Only three churches were represented. Dan was there. I was there. And the pastor of a biker church attended. That is it.

Are you kidding me?

During the meeting and since then, the Lord has been speaking to me. Not in an audible voice, of course, but in the way He speaks—much louder than that!

I’m going to summarize it here: “John, instead of worrying about your perspective of the church I have called you to serve, keep your eyes on me and the mission. Out of all the SBC churches in this city (and I am working with each one; I’m in charge of them and all churches as well), I have called you to be a part of this outreach to Native Americans. I am your resource, not a huge budget or large number of people. I am what you need. Your job here is to be available to let me use your congregation and faithful to the task. That is it. I’ll take care of the rest. Oh, and by the way, by using what you consider to be a “small church” without a lot of resources, I will get the glory, not you.”

It is amazing to me how, when the Lord speaks, it feels as if I have been spanked and hugged at the same time!

All of this, absolutely all of this, goes back to the Lord and his grace and mercy: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9 NIV84).

Father, I’m grateful that you allow us to be involved in your Great Commission. In the very beginning, it was only a small group of eleven ragtag men. How about that?

I confess the sin of being worldly in my evaluations and perspectives.

Lord, I’m available and the church I serve is also available, however many or few of us there are. You are in charge of that as well.

Thank you for Emerson and his family and his congregation in Oklahoma. I pray for that dinner on Thursday night.

Use us to introduce thousands of Native Americans to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim,
Till all the world adore His sacred name” (“Life High the Cross,” BH 2008, 236). Amen.
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Hospital for Sinners

Last week, Marilyn went to our family chiropractor.

Before I go further, I need to say a word about chiropractors. It is like any profession. Some folks are incompetent. We have had an experience with that type of chiropractor. There is no other way to say it: he was a quack.

After that experience, I swore off the whole profession and vowed that I would never go to another one, but after my cancer diagnosis, I had to un-swear. I was just dealing with some “issues” and didn’t want to start with drugs.

About that time, my mom and sister had started with Ed. His practice is housed in the same clinic as our family doctor. So, one would think that there is less chance that he is a quack. And this is certainly the case.

He has really helped my mom with all of her injuries and physical issues she is dealing with.

I’ve gone to him a couple of times myself. I’m very impressed.

Marilyn goes as well.

The other day she had an appointment with Ed. He is a very affable person. Whenever one of us sees him, he always asks about the other two in the family. One time, after asking about my mom, he said, “Hey, if you ever want to loan out your mom, I will take her.” Quite a statement.

Anyway, the other day when Marilyn was in for an appointment, he inquired about how I was doing. Marilyn answered in rather vague terms about how difficult it is to deal with people problems and issues.

When she finished, Ed answered, “That is exactly why I don’t go to church any longer.”

In other words, if it weren’t for people, church would be great! Or, another way to restate his response, “I can’t handle all the relationship ‘issues’ in church.”

On the one hand, I understand this. I can sympathize. This is a huge part of the angst that anyone goes through if he or she has been in church any length of time. I don’t know of anyone who loves it or likes it, even a little bit.

But, on the other hand, if I drop out (like Ed and many others have), where do you go—church #2? Oh, there isn’t any such thing.

Well, Marilyn answered him in this way, “Well, Ed, church is a hospital for sinners.”

When Marilyn told my mom and me this story, I told her, “Great answer. For someone in the medical profession. Great answer.”

Have you heard the expression, “Church is not a museum for saints; it is a hospital for sinners”?

I wonder how Ed or any of the other doctors at this clinic would respond if I made an appointment, and when one of them asked, “What is going on with you?” I would reply, “Nothing, I am great.”

“Huh? Then why are you in here? Why are you taking my time if you are well?”

Or, how about this? I wonder how the lady at the registration desk at Saint Anthony’s Hospital here in Denver would respond if I said, “Hey, I’m on vacation. Could you rent out a hospital room to me for the night? What’s on the menu?”

If you are looking for a place where everyone “has their act together” and is doing great, I think you need to look elsewhere than the church.

In fact, this is something else that came to mind as I thought about Marilyn’s answer to Ed: someday, when Ed faces an inevitable crisis, he will need “a hospital” himself.

And here is what I have learned about this: for those inevitable crises. Everyone needs to have already selected his/her hospital BEFORE that happens, because crises are always so overwhelming. Without that community in place, what happens to people is that they just fall in a hole of isolation and never get out.

And THAT is very dangerous.

One of things I keep hearing about the shooter in the movie theater in Aurora is that he was a loner. None of his neighbors ever saw him with anyone else.

Without a church community of support and encouragement in place, no one can handle a crisis. No one.

And those folks are flawed and make bad decisions and get into conflict with one another. That’s just the way it is.

The difference between Christians in a church and those outside of it is two things. First, we know (or should know) that our ultimate faith and trust is not in a human but in the Lord.

Humans, not only in church but also in every other realm, will always disappoint us, even if you build a statue to honor them!

But the Lord will NEVER disappoint us.

"Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever" (Psalm 146:3-6 ESV).

Second, when we as humans who know Jesus get into conflict or have relationship issues, we have Someone to go to and have a resource for resolving the problem. We don’t always take advantage of that resource, but He is there.

Well, anyway, we are praying that the Lord will use Marilyn’s great answer to spark some things in Ed’s life.

Father, I’m grateful for The Hospital for sinners. I’m glad, so glad, for the community of very flawed folks (and I “are” one of them, at the top of the list, as a matter of fact) that I can be a part of. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Thank you for the way you have used this community and continue to do so in my life.

Lord, it grieves me that people are so flippant and cavalier about their church. They toss it aside and leave it, often at the first hint of conflict or for various other spurious reasons.

I pray for a renewed commitment to serve you through the church.

No such thing as “Lone Ranger Christians.”

I pray for Ed and countless others like him who have abandoned the church and have nothing to replace it. How tragic and depressing!

“Come Christians, follow where our Savior trod,
Our King victorious, Christ, the Son of God” (“Lift High the Cross,” BH 2008, 236). Amen.
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"Overcome Evil with Good"

Chapters eight and nine of 2 Corinthians are at the heart of this amazing biblical book, for more than one reason. Sometimes, I wonder if everything in chapters one through seven, and everything in 10-13 is just one big cushion around these two chapters where Paul is dealing with a very touchy but necessary topic for every church in the history of the world.

Money.

But he starts off this critical discussion at the beginning of chapter eight in a very interesting way. He talks about the grace of God.

I’m afraid that most of us, especially pastors, are guilty of truncating this crucial biblical concept. We limit it. We confine it. We relegate it simply to the initial conversion experience—“saved by grace through faith—as Ephesians 2:8 puts it.

Certainly, this is one aspect of the biblical doctrine of grace, but it is not confined to that sphere, even in Ephesians two!

The grace of God saves me. But make no mistake: the grace of God keeps me saved. I need God’s grace to be operative in my life just as much today as I did forty-five years ago (are you kidding? Has it really been that long?) when the Lord saved me in the first place. Maybe more, but I realize each day, more and more, the magnitude of my sin and how unworthy and unable I am to save myself—“a wretch like me”—as “Amazing Grace” affirms.

Grace is critical to every moment of a fruitful life for Jesus as a motivator and “empower-er” to obedient living, and Paul does something very interesting.

Instead of coming down on the Corinthian church for their lack of obedience, he points to other examples of the grace of God in action: "We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part" (2 Corinthians 8:1, 2 ESV).

He points to the grace of God as it has been demonstrated in churches that were going through tremendous difficulty and poverty. In other words, there was nothing visible or tangible that would have indicated that these churches “could afford” to be generous.

I recoil every time I hear someone say, “Well, pastor, I can’t afford to give right now.” This comment tells me everything I need to know about a person’s priorities and their walk with the Lord.

Before I go further, I want to stop right here. I am not talking about some legalistic standard. I also do not advocate anyone giving to God and NOT paying their bills in other ways.

Having said all that, though, why does God always get the shaft? Why is it that many of us feel more “obligated” (is that necessarily a bad word when it comes to our relationship to God?) to pay all our other bills and expenses and push God to the bottom of the list, and if we have some change leftover (and we never do), then we will toss a few bucks in the plate to the Lord.

This is not biblical giving. It may appease my conscience somewhat, but it is not biblical giving.

This may sound callous, but I say this at church to “God tippers”: save it. God doesn’t need your tip. He is not your servant. We are His.

I honestly would rather not have people give it all than put a tip in the plate.

Someone might say, “Why pastor? Something is better than nothing. You need to take all you can get for the coffers of the church.”

Nope. I would rather have a little with the blessing of God than a lot of tips. Does God bless partial obedience? Partial obedience is total disobedience.

No, Christian giving, and this is what Paul is teaching this church as he challenges them, is always, first and foremost an act of faith inspired and motivated and empowered by the grace of God. It comes off the top. It is the first check we write or should. And it trusts God for the rest.

Here is a church that gave “out of poverty.” How on earth does one do that? Well, I believe it means that they sacrificed in other areas of personal convenience and benefit so that they could give an offering.

The truth is that most of us can’t “afford” to give because we spend money on ourselves gladly and willingly. We can always “afford” to do that!

Well, anyway, enough about that and back to the grace of God.

Again, I say that grace empowers and enables us to do things that we otherwise would not or could not do. This is evident in other situations, not just with money and giving.

It is showing up in the aftermath of the Aurora tragedy as well.

Last night, as I was watching another news program about the Aurora shootings, one reporter was interviewing a battalion chief from the Aurora fire department. He was one of the “first responders” on the scene.

Toward the end of the interview, the reporter asked him, “How do you personally deal with and cope with such a huge tragedy?” His answer was straightforward and direct: “Scripture says that we should not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good. That’s how I am going to deal with all of this.”

You could have pushed me over with a feather! This is one of the most powerful testimonies and appropriate responses I have EVER heard in my life. Wow.

How on earth could this man pull that off—not only his testimony, but also in his practical experience?

The grace of God!

Lord, thank you for your grace, marvelous grace, grace that is greater than all my sin.

Thank you that all the conclusion of the prayer vigil last night in the city of Aurora they sang “Amazing Grace.”

Your grace is indeed amazing. I trust your grace today—to keep me saved, to enable me to be obedient to you in difficult circumstances, and last but not least, to enable me not to let evil lower me to its level to allow good, your goodness, to lift me to your level and to be in truth an overcomer.

“I’m an overcomer
I am more than a conqueror” (William McDowell, “Overcomer,” www.songlyrics.com, accessed July 23, 2012). Amen.
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"Give Yourself Permission to Rest"

Before I tell about my visit to my Primary Care Physician on Friday, I want to talk more about the tragedy in Aurora.

As this story unfolds, now we are hearing about the victims and their families. And I can’t imagine what they are going through.

One dad, Tom Sullivan, suspected the worst when he heard about the shooting. He drove to Gateway High School, where police had designated as a staging area for information for families. Frantically, he asked authorities about his son. No one could give him any information.

In anguish, he cried out, “Where’s my son? Where’s my son?”

Finally, the news came that his son was one of the victims—killed on his birthday.

There is a picture of this dad hugging two women as he weeps. (This story was in the Denver Post this morning, but I first read it in “Father’s emotion shows pain of Batman shooting,” USA Today, accessed July 22, 2012.

I tell you: it is almost unbearable.

Lord, I just have to stop right here and now and pray for the Sullivan family and all the other families. As the shock wears off, the reality is hitting them even as we speak. If Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (a famous CU professor who chronicled the stages of grief years ago—her work is classic) is correct, they are dealing with anger. Understandably so. Help them, Lord. Help them today.

I’m praying that they receive the same kind of help in grief that I received in another way the other day.

Since my last maintenance treatments, I just have not been on top of things. I can’t really explain it. It just seems as if my fatigue has been a little more pronounced.

Well, of course, I have not done anything about it. Finally, however, I listened to the encouragement of my mom and sister and made an appointment with my Primary Care physician, Dr. Kinsler. I had an appointment for late afternoon on Friday, a couple of days ago.

He asked me a lot of very good questions about how I was doing. I could tell he was trying to cover all the potential bases. Then, he checked me over.

After all of that, he said, “Well, John, we are going to do a blood test just to check some things, but here is what I want to say to you right now. You are still going through cancer treatments. Your body is still recovering from chemo. I think you just need to give yourself permission to rest and not worry about it.”

“Permission to rest.”

I can’t tell you how much those words resonated with me. His comments took me back to all the lessons I thought I had learned during chemotherapy. Back in the Fall of 2010 and the Spring of 2011, I rested a lot, mainly because I didn’t feel like doing anything else.

Now, over the course of several months, I’ve lost that boundary, that ethic, and find that I am pushing myself or fretting about things.

Again, before my diagnosis, I almost totally disregarded rest as something for sissies. Man up. I’m tired. So what? So are a lot of other people in the church who work multiple jobs. If they can do it, so can you. Et cetera. Ad infinitum.

Anyway, I can’t tell you how much I needed to have someone say this to me. It was like water to a thirsty man in the desert.

It was a cold slap in the face, but I pray that I learn this lesson—not just for the next few months, but also for the rest of my life.

Again, I’m never going back to “normal.” That would be an affront to everything the Lord is teaching me.

And I pray that I can teach and live this example to my brothers and sisters in Christ who need rest also.

I have to tell you about a ministry activity we were involved in yesterday, but that will have to wait until tomorrow.

“The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing” (Psalm 145:14-14, NASB).

O Lord, you know us in our humanness better than we know ourselves. You made us, each and every one. Thank you for the encouragement I received from the doctor the other day. I pray that you would help me heed his advice.

Help me to learn to give myself permission to rest.

Again, help the victims to give themselves permission to grieve and to seek godly and spiritual help. Use this awful event, turn it inside out and up. Bring many people to yourself.

“Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all” (“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” BH 2008, 235). Amen.
Comments

The Tragedy in Aurora

Yesterday morning, after writing the blog and posting it in various places, I got up off this couch to start my day. This is the week of the British Open golf tournament (or, The Open Championship, its proper name). At one point in the telecast, one of the broadcasters made a comment about the tragedy in Colorado. My attention peaked, “What tragedy?”

I turned the channel to discover what he was talking about.

As I watched the news reports and the gravity of the whole thing started to sink in, my mind went back to another time over a decade ago. I was preaching in Colorado Springs at Bart’s church. It was April. At one point, during the day, I went into some type of store. It must have been a sporting goods store because there were televisions mounted high, at the corners of this shop. News reports were beginning to come out about something going on at Columbine High School.

I soon forgot what I was doing in this store and just stood there, watching that television for over an hour. I just could not get my mind around what was happening.

This is the way I felt yesterday—just a pain in my gut. I could not get it out of my mind. Someone shot a whole bunch of people, killing twelve and wounding 70 others, in a public venue—a movie theater of all places.

I can’t imagine how the families of the victims are feeling today. Last night, I saw a television interview with the brother and boyfriend of a young woman who was killed. She was an aspiring sportscaster. This brother was very brave, even to put himself in a position to speak publicly about his sister. He asserted, “I don’t want us to focus on the coward who did this. I think we ought to spotlight the victims and tell their stories.” Good point.

My mom and sister and I were talking about it last night. It just seems that in more and more ways, in more and more places, it just doesn’t seem safe any longer. Sure this is an aberration, hopefully. But still. Going to a movie (and I haven’t actually gone to see in movie in a theater in years) will never be the same EVER AGAIN.

Right or wrong, good or bad, I am often asked to explain tragedy to grieving folks. This is one of the hidden job requirements for pastors that no one in seminary ever tells you about. With tears streaming down their faces, people plead, “Why, John? Why did this happen?”

I have no idea.

The longer I live, the less I presume to try to understand these types of things, and I will add this—the less I feel compelled even to begin to give reasons or explanations.

To repeat: I have no idea.

Even if I could in my finite and limited mind, it would not help. It would not bring back any of the folks who died or who were injured in this horrific event.

That having been emphasized, a passage, in addition to the one I read this morning, comes to mind. This is often a text for me in funeral services. In the first few verses of Luke 13, Jesus alludes to two tragedies. The first is that Pontius Pilate apparently murdered some innocent people as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple one day. The second is the senseless death of eighteen people when the tower of Siloam fell on them.

Jesus referred to these tragedies. He alluded to a common belief that bad things happen to bad people. A lot of folks in our day and time believe that same thing, by the way. I’m not going to talk about this today.

But after alluding to this false belief, he affirms (twice), “But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:3,5, NIV84). He is NOT telling these folks that if they don’t get right with God that they will be murdered or a tower will fall on them. He is teaching them about the frailty and uncertainty of human life.

Tragedies occur. They are just part of the gig. Life can end suddenly for anyone at any time.

Therefore, it is incumbent on all of us to repent, to get right with the Lord, before our lives end suddenly. And here’s the thing: life always ends suddenly, even in situations where someone has a terminal illness and is sick for a long time. We are never prepared. It is always sudden.

It is interesting to me how Jesus turns the table on speaking about those two tragedies in his day. He moves the discussion dramatically away from the incident itself to the audience of his message and he concludes this portion of the gospel story with a parable.

An owner plants a tree in one of his vineyards and waits for it to bear fruit. But it doesn’t. Years pass as he continues to wait. Finally, he tells his tenant farmer, “Cut the thing down. I’m tired of it.” But the farmer responds, “Give it a chance. I will work on it. Give it one more year to bear fruit and if it doesn’t, then we can cut it down” (Luke 13:6-9, my paraphrase).

The fact is that none of us knows when our time will come, but if we have breath and life today, then it is our urgent opportunity to bear fruit in God’s vineyard—to speak for Jesus and live for Jesus while there is time.

The fact is that we as Christians are in a unique position to minister to folks in tragedy. I got an email from Bob at the Mile High Association yesterday afternoon. One of our larger SBC churches in Denver is in Aurora and last night, they sponsored a prayer vigil for the community. The Association is also making counseling resources available for anyone who might need that type of ministry.

Last night, I saw another interview with a young man who was in an adjacent theater to where the shooting occurred. It was obvious to me that he was probably a youth pastor who had taken some teens to this premiere. He indicated that, when everyone in his group had gotten out and were safe, they started ministering to and praying with others outside the theater.

It isn’t that we have all the answers, but we know the One who has all the questions and is THE answer.

This reminds me of something that Peterson says in the introduction to one of the New Testament books he translates. I’ll have to find the exact quote, but he says something to the effect that churches are not perfect or sinless, but what makes churches unique as communities (or at least should make them unique) is that they bring sin out in the open and deal with it, redemptively.

This is what Paul commends the church in Corinth for in 2 Corinthians 7: "For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God" (2 Corinthians 7:11, 12 ESV).

Sin, like tragedy, is going to occur. That is a given. We live in a sinful and fallen world. Where the rubber hits the road is in our response.

Lord, I thank you that you are fully in charge of this world and everything in it and everyone. You are sovereign, even in tragedy. I don’t understand any of this, but I know in my heart of hearts that always and still, LORD.

I pray for the families of the victims—those who were killed and injured—and for everyone else adversely affected by this shooting.

Lord, I pray for repentance, mass repentance, as a result of this tragedy, as it shows all of us how fleeting our lives are here on this planet.

I pray that I would be a fruitful tree in your garden as long as you allow me one more day to live.

“Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all” (“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” BH 2008, 234). Amen.
Comments

Trained Fingers

As I was reading and praying through Psalm 144 in the quietness of this early morning (I love how still it is—no traffic sounds), a phrase in this passage struck me. Here it is:

"May the Lord, my rock, be praised, who trains my hands for battle and my fingers for warfare” (Psalm 144:1, HCSB). The Psalmist prays that the Lord would train his hands for battle. This makes sense. I can understand the many uses of hands when it comes to being a soldier, but he does not stop there. He also prays that the Lord would “train his fingers for warfare.”

Often, as you read Hebrew poetry (and the Psalms are a primo example of it), there is a prevalent technique called “parallelism.” This may not be the technical term. In fact, I’m pretty sure it isn’t, but there is often a repetition of a phrase using similar language. I believe that this is one of those instances: train my hands for battle/my fingers for warfare.

This is a very profound thought, I know, but a hand without fingers does not do anyone that much good--ha! Having said that, though, there is a distinction between the two. They are different. Each is important.

But why?

Well, I think it is interesting that this reference to hands and fingers is not the only one in this Psalm. Notice another repetition in subsequent verses: “Reach down from heaven; rescue me from deep water, and set me free from the grasp of foreigners whose mouths speak lies, whose right hands are deceptive. Set me free and rescue me from the grasp of foreigners whose mouths speak lies, whose right hands are deceptive" (Psalm 144:7, 8, 11 HCSB).

In the first place, the Psalmist is asking God to reach down and rescue him. God is Spirit. We understand this, but we still use anthropomorphic terms to describe Him and His work. And there are times we need His hands and fingers to rescue us.

Whenever I affirm this, I think of a particular time in my life—another one of those early memories. I was about five or six. It was summer. My mom took my sister and me to a swimming pool. She gave us explicit instructions: “stay in the shallow end of the pool. Don’t go over there to the deep end.”

Well, what do you think I did? Of course. I wandered over to the deep end of the pool and somehow, I fell or jumped in. And all of a sudden, I found myself sinking and I started to panic.

This is a very vivid memory. I remember looking up and seeing a hand coming down toward me. This hand with fingers intact was trying to grab me, grab something, to pull me up and out. I think those fingers grabbed the back of my swimming trunks and pulled up. Before I knew it, I was on the surface of the water.

As it turned out, it was my mom’s hand. She rescued me, but of course, once I was up and out, not only of the deep end of the pool, but also out of the swimming pool altogether, that same hand spanked me. She was not happy. Ouch. I think I can still feel it sitting here this morning.

But the imagery of that hand coming down in the water to grab me—I’ll never forget it.

On a spiritual level, I have experienced that type of rescue many times.

Thus, this is another reference to hands and fingers, implied, of course.

The other reference is more explicit. Twice, almost as if this is a refrain to a song, the Psalmist prays that the Lord would set him free “from the grasp of foreigners.”

So, let’s put this puzzle together. The Psalmist is praying that the Lord would train his hands and fingers for battle, that the Lord would reach down with His hands and fingers to rescue him, and that God would set him free from the hands and fingers of the enemy who is or is attempting to grasp him.

This imagery brings another childhood memory to mind. In Junior High, I did some wrestling in gym class. My experiences certainly don’t qualify me to be Dan Gable. But a couple of things that I learned—one has to be in shape to wrestle. I’ll tell you: I have never been as tired as I was after just two to three minutes. Whew. It takes everything out of you.

The other thing I remember is that, you have to be skilled at using every body part, to extricate yourself from your opponent’s grasp and turn the tables to pin him. Sometimes, it does indeed boil down to how you use each finger of both hands. In those tight quarters, every little thing can hurt or help.

Paul reminds us that this close in warfare—a wrestling match—is exactly the type of contest that our enemy wages against us. The KJV makes this clear: “we wrestle not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12, KJV).

This close in battle requires every single body part, including and especially fingers, to be fully engaged for God, but here is the thing. Back to Psalm 144, it is ultimately an unfair wrestling match because Someone a lot stronger than Dan Gable steps in and cleans up. He grabs us with one hand while pinning the enemy down with the other. Piece of cake. Match over.

Lord, I praise you today. I am so grateful for all the times when I was sinking down to the bottom—and the harder I tried to extricate myself—the “worser” it got. And it was my fault. I wandered off course. I didn’t deserve to be rescued. I never do. But this morning, I’m so grateful for all the times you have done this for me.

I’m in need again today.

Train my hands and fingers for warfare. I yield my body, hands and feet and fingers and toes and eyebrows—all of me—on the altar today.

“In the cross, in the cross
Be my glory ever,
Till my ransomed soul shall find
Rest beyond the river” (“Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross,” BH 2008, 233). Amen.
Comments

Godly Sorrow

Rob helped me with this a couple of years ago. He said, “Saying, ‘I’m sorry’ is not enough. In reconciling relationships, the correct statement is, ‘Please forgive me.’” He is right. Simply being sorrowful is simply an emotion. I can be “sorry” about a lot of things, but it doesn’t mean that I acknowledge my wrong and ask someone to “send that wrong away” (this is the meaning of the biblical word).

This imagery is based on the Old Testament concept of the “scape goat.” When the priest interceded for the sins of the people, two goats were involved. One was sacrificed and its blood was spilled on the altar.

But the other goat was not killed. The priest laid his hands on the head of this goat, confessed the sins of the people, and then released the goat to “Azazel.” This Hebrew word means “nowhere.” The goat loped off and was never seen again. This is how the Lord deals with our sins. He forgives and forgets.

Obviously, as humans, we can’t forget, but when we forgive, we don’t bring up the offense ever again and when it comes to mind, we turn it over to Jesus, as often as we need to.

Having said, all of this, however, I need to hasten to say that this does NOT mean that sorrow over sin is not important. In fact, it is very crucial, but in 2 Corinthians 7, Paul takes time to make an important contrast between two types of sorrow. "Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it–I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while– yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death" (2 Corinthians 7:8-10 NIV84).

In a painful letter (we do not have a copy of it; Paul wrote it between the writing of 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians), he confronted the church about an offender and what to do with this individual if he repents. And Paul was concerned that his pointed appeal may have hurt some folks and caused them sorrow. And Paul does not minimize this hurt, but he looks at the broad perspective of the situation. If the momentary hurt led this church to repentance, then it was worth it.

Therefore, he makes this distinction. Sorrow is “godly” if it leads to heart and life change—repentance. And this type of repentance leads to a life of no regret.

On the other hand, worldly sorrow stops right there. It is simply an emotion of feeling bad, but since it does not lead to life change, the end result is death. And I believe Paul is using the word death here as he does in Romans 6:23. I believe he is talking about spiritual death—eternal separation from God.

Once again, then, he is affirming the action and response of the church in Corinth. Because their sorrow led to repentance, they proved themselves to be genuine children of God.

Had they not done this, (and this is why I believe Paul went through such angst as he waited for Titus’ response), they would have demonstrated themselves not to be believers at all, and Paul’s ministry in Corinth would have been totally fruitless.

The rubber hits the road when it comes to the issue of forgiveness and godly sorrow. If you want to see if someone who claims faith in the Lord is the real McCoy, look at how he/she reacts in this type of situation.

For me today, I realize that this issue of godly versus worldly sorrow is a constant challenge for believers as we deal with sin in all types of situations. Just being sorry, really sorry, for the sins I commit is just not enough. But Satan wants us to think it is. He wants us to believe that just because we are sorry and even vow in self-righteous indignation that we will never do it again—should be enough.

But it isn’t.

Without genuine repentance, I guarantee you—that sin is going to continue.

And repentance is a gift from God. He puts it out there. And He offers it to us. It is an opportunity to turn from sin and receive God’s grace to go in a different direction. And this is a work of God. No one can do this on his/her own by resolutions and Herculean effort.

It is something only the Lord can do and offer, but the offer isn’t out there forever. In His grace, there is a period of time (only the Lord knows the boundaries of this period), but then, His offer comes off the table, so to speak. This comes into focus in the life of Esau. The writer to Hebrews talks about it. The Lord offered him a chance to repent, but when the grace period passed, “He (Esau) could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears” (Hebrews 12:17, ESV, parentheses mine). How tragic!

All of this to say—as the Lord continues to work on me with my “ministry issue,” there is a sense of urgency about things.

I’m realizing that I tend to minimize and put things off when it comes to my relationship with Jesus. Everyone else’s sins seem to be much worse than mine. I’m very concerned about their sins, not as much about mine. Of course, this is wrong and twisted.

Lord, thank you for your mercy and grace and patience with me. Thank you for many opportunities to repent. I accept that gift today.

I confess the sin of a lack of urgency.

I turn to you today and trust you to empower me and give me impetus to obey you and follow you, wholeheartedly.

“Jesus, keep me near the cross,
There a precious fountain,
Free to all a healing stream,
Flows from Calvary’s mountain” (“Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross,” BH 2008, 233). Amen.
Comments

The End of the Rabbit Trail

Talk about chasing a rabbit—Paul has been doing it for five chapters in 2 Corinthians. As he is telling his story and defending his change of plans in chapter two, he talks about moving on from a great opportunity for ministry in Troas. He goes on to wait for the news of the church’s response to his message sent with Titus.

This time in his life elicits from his hand (and of course, it is the Holy Spirit doing the writing through that hand) some of the best material he has ever written. I love these five chapters because, among other things, we get to see his heart more than in any other section of any of his letters in the New Testament.

I love the progression of thought in these chapters. Things shift gradually from a defense of his ministry to an offensive posture. He ends up, at the end of the rabbit trail, with this challenge to the church at Corinth: "Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV).

What is he saying here? Well, a lot, of course. Chapter six ended with promises of relationship for those who separate themselves from the world and worldly folks in significant relationships. The incentive for an enhanced relationship with the Lord should be huge motivator.

I’m afraid that often, it is not. We tend to care more about what people think, rather than what the Lord commands. This is an easy trap to fall into.

I struggled with it yesterday as I drove to Aurora to visit with the husband of one of our members who is in a rehab hospital. He is not doing that well, but his wife asked him if I could come to visit, and he told her I could. He has never come to church and according to her, isn’t interested in becoming a believer.

I fought myself as I made this long drive yesterday. On the one hand, I certainly did not want to offend him in any way. Here is a sick man lying in a hospital bed. And as I entered his room yesterday, I could see he wasn’t well. Therefore, I introduced myself, told him that the church was praying for him, asked him how he was doing (he replied that he was not having a good day), prayed with him right then and there, and left.

That’s one side of things, but on the other hand, I struggled with the fact that this man needs Jesus. He is looking death and eternity in the face—an eternity in which he will be forever separated from God. My heart goes out to Him. He needs Jesus! I just pray for another opportunity to share at the right time. I asked him if I could come back to see him again, and he nodded his head. I’m glad.

Back to 2 Corinthians 7:1—the Lord is working on me in the area of cleansing defilements of body and spirit. The onus is on me these days. For far too long, I have lived with my rationalizations about why I can’t verbalize the gospel much more than I do. I have tolerated my own excuses. And it is time to let the Lord deal with these issues in my life.

But as we deal with these defilements, honestly confessing and turning from them, Paul indicates that this is the road to “bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” In other words, it is not just about stopping wrong attitudes and behaviors. We like to take pride in what we DON’T do: don’t smoke, don’t chew, don’t go with girls what do.” But as a pastor I respect once said, “A fencepost doesn’t do those things either!” Great line!

It is always about what we DO that matters before God.

Oh, and one more thing: this occurs in the context of a healthy fear of God. Instead of being afraid of what people will think, I need to have reverence and awe for what God thinks.

All of this came into focus last night as I drove over to Federal Heights to lead the opening prayer for Mayor Joyce at the City Council meeting. As I entered the parking lot, I could see immediately that this was not going to be an ordinary meeting. Two groups of about twenty folks each were standing there, huddled together with concerned looks on their faces. What was up?

Mayor Joyce pulled me aside to tell me that the dispute was related to a motion the council was discussing relating the size of mobile homes they would allow in the community. This is a huge issue because Federal Heights is comprised of mainly manufactured housing communities.

So, as the meeting was starting and people were filing in, I felt for Joyce. As mayor, she is right in the middle of this dispute.

After my prayer and some perfunctory business, it was time in the agenda for people to come to a podium and a microphone, giving their name and address, with an opportunity to speak for three minutes. Oh, boy. Some folks were so angry that they didn’t even remember to give their name. They just jumped in with both feet. People had adamant opinions on both sides of this issue.

I sat there for about forty minutes, listening to this discussion and praying for Joyce. After awhile, I just got up and left. It was hitting a little too close to home in two ways.

First, I’ll never complain about a Baptist business meeting again! I promise!

Second, it just reinforced again the desperate needs of people who don’t know the Lord. As people advocated for their particular mobile home park and/or size of their trailer, the words of Paul were ringing in my ears: “we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1, ESV).

Please understand: I am not saying that our houses here—whether they are mobile homes or not—are NOT important, but without the Lord, THIS life is all we have and all we can see. And I got a “fly on the wall” perspective of that last night. It was a cold slap in the face.

Plus, I’m going to write Joyce a note and tell her I’m praying for her.

Lord, thank you for the challenge today to holiness. You are a Holy God. You call us to be holy.

I confess my sins and rationalizations to you. Guide me. Empower me to cleanse myself from all defilements of body and spirit. Show me exactly what THAT means.

I pray for Joyce. I pray for those folks who stood to speak last night. I pray for the man I visited.

Embolden me today to care more about what you think in the fear of the Lord than what anyone else thinks.

“Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath;
We stand forgiven at the cross” (“The Power of the Cross,” BH 2008, 232). Amen.
Comments

George, Andy, and Richard

As I sit here this morning, it just now dawns on me that, yesterday, three guys were on my heart most of the day. Each of them is dealing with some serious physical challenges, and each of these guys mean a lot to me.

Several years ago, not long after I started as pastor at First Southern, I started to have a type of recurring dream.

Before I go further, this reminds me of something that I had wanted to tell everyone. I have already sold my first book!

I didn’t realize this, but my book is already available for sale on the Westbow Press website, and here is the weird thing about that—it is not even being published yet! I got an email from Westbow yesterday. It indicated that they are sending me an advance paperback and hardback version of my book for me to look over for any type of printing error. Once these errors (if any) are corrected, my understanding is that publication will begin and my book will actually be available to be purchased on Amazon and the Barnes and Noble websites.

I will have more to say about this later.

Back to my point—a couple of days ago, I got an email from a guy named Jack who lives in Northern California. He told me that he saw my book on the Westbow website and he had already purchased a copy in advance of publication! Cool, huh?

I was very excited about this at first (I still am), but I kept reading his note. Apparently, he had a bit of an agenda. He is in process of writing a book himself. He attached an excerpt of the book to his email and asked if I would read it and give him my opinion of it.

His book is all about dreams that he has had. Jack has had some physical issues himself. He has been very ill and almost died. As he was going through these experiences, he had some very vivid dreams about heaven and the after-life.

I have spoken with folks with similar experiences and read books on this subject before. I certainly can’t question someone’s experience, and I told Jack that the fact that many of these testimonies are similar lends validity to them, in my opinion. I tried to encourage him and thanked him for being the very first person who purchased my book.

I may sell only one copy. Who knows? But it humbles me that anyone would pay money to read something I have written. But the money is way down the list. I don’t expect to make the New York Times Bestseller List and like Rick Warren give my total salary back to my church.

Don’t get me wrong! If that were to happen, I wouldn’t complain, but that is not the primary reason I am writing and publishing this first book. It is just to get a message out there that the Lord is giving me through cancer, and if it helps just one person—Jack—great. The rest, if anything, is gravy.

My college friend (his name is Jack also) may have told me this or maybe it was someone else—most self-published books sell about fifty copies. That’s it. But I’m hoping for more for this book, not to put myself in another income bracket (so that I get the “privilege” of paying more taxes), but so that the message can get out there. I’m praying that the Lord will give me wisdom and direction as to how to do this as an extension of the pastoral ministry He has already given me.

Anyway, my memories of my own dreams caused me to chase this rabbit.

Rabbit caught. Back to the subject.

About twenty years ago, I was having a recurring dream. It had no theological or revelation significance (don’t worry!) except that it just unearthed what had been pushed down in my heart for years.

I had dreams, very vivid dreams, about my dad. Most of them went like this: I was sitting in a room with some friends and family, and all of a sudden, he just came in the room! And I would have this very striking feeling, “Hey, where have you been all these years?” And as I was asking that question and feeling that sensation, I would wake up in a cold sweat.

My dad died in 1973. These dreams occurred frequently in 1992—19 years after his death. And I found myself grieving all over again. It was weird. I had been a pastor three years at that point, and I was beginning to face a lot of issues at the church. But I felt this profound sense of loneliness.

At that point, on and off since then, I have prayed that the Lord would bring me some older men who would serve as mentors—guys I could talk to about ministry stuff—for wisdom and perspective.

Today, as I am praying—I realize that these three men—George, Andy, and Richard—fall in that category.

A week ago yesterday, George started some intense treatment for prostate cancer as a recent test has indicated that it has gotten a little worse. He replied to an email yesterday. He said that he had had some side effects to his treatment, but he seemed to be doing okay.

I heard that Andy had surgery last week. I called him yesterday to find out how he was doing. I got his voicemail at that time, but later on in the afternoon, I did get a message from him on my phone. He went in for surgery to repair a damaged artery caused by an ablation procedure. He said that he felt a little better.

It would be hard to measure on a scale the impact the Lord has had on my life through Andy. I still consider him to be my pastor. And he left Calvary Baptist of Englewood in 1981 to go to Utah.

George and Andy are retired pastors. Richard is a layman.

I’ve mentioned Richard before and recently. From the moment he joined the fellowship a few years ago, he has made a point of encouraging me. I found myself going to visit with him rather often, ostensibly to minister to him, but it always ended up that he ministered to me. He would say things like, “I know you are going through a tough time, but just hang in there. You are doing a great job.” He had perspective to see the broad picture at our church when I tended to get buried in the details. How valuable is that? Again, it is immeasurable.

Richard’s condition is more serious and life threatening than that of George and Andy. The doctors discovered the other day that Richard has colon cancer. Betty told me that on Sunday, prior to his surgery yesterday, the family had a meeting. It doesn’t sound good. I’m praying that I get a chance to visit with him this afternoon. I hope I can be half the encourager that he has been to me.

Here are the verses I read today in 2 Corinthians 6. "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?" (2 Corinthians 6:14, 15 ESV).

Usually, we use this passage as a way of teaching teenagers not to date and/or marry a lost person. Certainly, this is a valid application of this passage, but it is not Paul’s original point. After defending himself against the attack of his detractors in Corinth, Paul goes on the offensive. I believe that these verses are a challenge to so-called believers in the congregation to separate themselves from false teachers who make a claim to be godly but in fact are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

All of us need to be careful never to link ourselves in any meaningful friendship or relationship with lost folks. This is not to say that we should not have friendship on another level with people who need Jesus. Otherwise, we would have to pull out of the world (Paul makes this point in 1 Corinthians 5), but this verse is talking about “meaningful” friendships and partnerships. And the teacher/student or pastor/congregant relationship falls in that category. Light and darkness cannot co-exist! Jesus and Satan can’t be friends!

Lord, I do thank you for meaningful friends in the body of Christ. Thank you for relatively new friends like George. Thank you for encouragers like Richard. Thank you for Pastor Andy. I’m deeply appreciative of these three guys this morning, and I lift them all up to you, particular Richard at this time. Heal them. Strengthen them. Encourage them.

Use me to be the same type of encourager to younger pastors and to lay people alike.

“Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain” (“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” BH 2008, 231). Amen.
Comments

No "On-Off" Switch

Last night, I happened to flip the channel to 60 Minutes on CBS.  Last night’s program was dedicated primarily to an interview with Walter Isaacson who has written a biography of Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple who died of cancer not long ago. 
This interview touched on Jobs’ life from beginning to end.  At one point in his twenties, he spent seven months in India on a spiritual pilgrimage (I think that is what Isaacson called it).  When Jobs returned to the United States, he indicated that the main lessons he learned were to trust his intuition and to value simplicity as Zen Buddhism taught. 
I don’t think Jobs was a Buddhist.  I don’t think he claimed any religious affiliation.  By all indications, he certainly wasn’t a believer in Jesus or anything except his own abilities.  He grew Apple into the most profitable corporation in the United States.  It is now number one. 
However, toward the end of his life, as he struggled with pancreatic cancer for eight years, he did begin to think about God and the possibility of an afterlife. 
I found a website today with the quotes from the program last night.  Here is what Jobs confessed: "I saw my life as an arc and that it would end and compared to that, nothing mattered. You're born alone, you're going to die alone. And does anything else really matter? I mean what is it exactly is it that you have to lose Steve? You know? There's nothing."
Isaacson went on to quote Jobs as saying, "Maybe it's 'cos I want to believe in an afterlife, that when you die, it doesn't just all disappear. The wisdom you've accumulated. Somehow it lives on. But sometimes I think it's just like an on-off switch. Click and you're gone.
And that's why I don't like putting on-off switches on Apple devices" (www.telegraph.co.uk, accessed July 16, 2012).
So much of that is horribly tragic.  “Born alone to die alone.”  “There’s nothing.”  “Click and you’re gone.”  But the main thing that struck me is that this questioning, this wondering about an after-life caused him not to put “off” switches on his products. 
I know, believe me, because I am an Apple geek.  I own just about every Apple product there is: desktop computer, laptop computer, IPad, IPod, and IPhone.  And I looked.  Nope.  No “off” switches. 
The show ended last night with his quote about on-off switches.  I can’t get this statement out of my mind. 
Here is arguably one of the most successful and visionary CEO’s who has ever lived, and he died, looking eternity in the face and wondering.  How tragic!
But it just adds fuel to the fire of what the Lord is doing in my life. 
After a great meal the Hispanic church provided for us Anglos (they did it just to thank us for all our congregation has done for them; many among us yesterday indicated that we ought to have had a meal to thank THEM; and I think we will in the near future), I had a meeting with several folks about our children’s ministry.  Calla, our new Minister to the Families of Children, is doing an excellent job.  Week by week, it seems as if we have more boys and girls in the service who go with her to “children’s church.” 
I love it and am in full support of this ministry, but my concern is that Calla only has a few people to help her.  As a result, she is not able to be in “grown-up” service at all.  This was the reason for our meeting.  We were discussing how we could get more adults involved in this ministry. 
Someone said, “Well, the problem is that we are just not reaching young adults.  If we reach young adults with children, they would be much more ready to help.  As it is, I don’t think we can expect the seniors to step up and I don’t blame them.”
This was an excellent point and one that I have been making over and over.  We all agreed, but the issue is: what do we do about it?
The few of us who were in the meeting had a lot of opinions.  Finally, after a long discussion, I said, “Well, I think what it boils down to in the immediate future is that each of us must take seriously our personal responsibility to share Jesus with other people.  I’m not talking about beating people over the head.  Each of us has a different personality.  We all do it differently, but the issue is that we must do it.  I’m personally convicted that I have just drifted away from verbalizing my faith to others on a consistent basis.  And the Lord has convicted me that I need to return to Him and allow Him to use me to share.” 
After watching 60 Minutes last night, I’m more convinced of this than ever.  Even billionaires like Steve Jobs need Jesus and who is going to tell them if I don’t?
My problem is that, recently, I feel that I am just barely keeping my head above water.  And I feel that a lot of folks in the church I serve are in the same boat.  We need to join the Psalmist in crying out:  
"Stretch out your hand from on high; rescue me and deliver me from the many waters, from the hand of foreigners, whose mouths speak lies and whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood" (Psalm 144:7, 8 ESV).
“Deliver me from many waters,” he cries.  I’m intrigued by this phrase.  This is not the usual way to refer to water.  I think what he is claiming is that there is a great amount of water that is threatening to pull him under and keep him under. 
Therefore, here is the picture that comes to mind: someone who is struggling to stay afloat with every ounce of his or her body is being challenged by some preacher to share his/her faith with someone else.  This can’t happen unless someone rescues the person who is drowning.  Otherwise, all efforts and focus and energy is expended on just keeping one’s nose above the waterline. 
It is no wonder we aren’t reaching anyone and frankly, it seems as if we don’t care.  Evangelism is not even on the radar screen for a lot of us.  If we think about it, it causes a momentary guilt trip but we quickly dismiss it from our minds.  I can always find hundreds of reasons NOT to do it. 
But occasionally, you see someone who takes this responsibility seriously and it is a stark reminder.
Yesterday, after Zach Johnson won the John Deere Classic in an extra-hole playoff, he made a point (as he always does when he is interviewed) to thank his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  I deeply appreciate this.
Oh, Lord, thank you for being the Rescuer.  Thank you for all the times in my life, especially through the cancer pilgrimage, that you have thrown my lifelines when I needed you the most. 
Now, for me personally and for the church I serve, is another one of those times. 
I confess the sin of silence.  I confess the sin of being so pre-occupied with myself that I am content to let the world go to hell.  I would never say that, but my lifestyle confirms that in essence, that is what I am doing. 
Thank you for outspoken believers like Zach Johnson.  Make me part of his tribe, today. 
“So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies and Apple computers I lay down” (“The Old Rugged Cross,” BH 2008, 230, “and Apple computers” comment mine).  Amen.  P. S. There is an off-switch, but for believers, when this life shuts down, there is an automatic “restart” in eternity!
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Howard and Jim Talbert

My sister’s work on Ancestry.com has brought us into contact with family we have never met before.

Yesterday, I got a call from Howard. He and Jim are in town and wanted to get together. My mom and sis were unable to go, but I drove out to Wheatridge to meet Howard and Jim.

Let me see if I can explain how I am related to them. This is all about my dad’s side of the family, of course. I guess it goes without saying since their last name is Talbert. My granddad, Glen Talbert, who was killed by a drunk driver when my dad was twenty, had four brothers. One of those brothers was named Howard. Howard had four boys and one daughter. The Howard I met yesterday and Jim were two of his kids.

It is a rather fascinating story that Glen and his four brothers were orphans when all of them were rather young, and as a result of the death of both parents, these young men were “farmed out” to various and sundry places. I’m not sure where Howard (brother of Glen) ended up, but the two guys I met yesterday live in Michigan now.

Howard Jr. has been a respiratory therapist for the past forty years, and his older brother Jim worked for General Motors for 38 years before his retirement in 1993. Howard now lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan while Jim lives on a lake in a little town called Sears.

It was great to visit with these two guys and to hear about their pilgrimage of learning about the grandfather they never met. They have been traveling and visiting various cities and libraries for the past five years. Howard has a notebook with pictures and artifacts and articles he has found.

The reason they are staying in hotel in Wheatridge is that they had been visiting with another relative. Her name is Charlotte. She is the daughter of another one of my granddad’s brothers whose name was Paul. We get to see Charlotte now and again, but not as often as we should.

Toward the close of our conversation yesterday, Howard said, “Where is your church?” I handed him a business card. As I was doing this, Jim looked at his brother and said, “So, I guess you are going to drag me to church with you tomorrow, huh?” We laughed about it. I replied, “Well, it will give you guys an opportunity to be in a Baptist church. Have you ever visited one before?” Jim said, “Oh, yes. We grew up in attending a Baptist church.” Howard added, “It was an Independent Baptist church. Yours is Southern Baptist, right?”

I explained, “There are a lot of different types of Baptist churches. Baptists like to split and join or start different churches. You guys have heard the old joke: ‘get two Baptists together and you will have three opinions’?” Jim loved that one. He laughed and laughed about it.

Somehow, I did not get the idea that these two guys had a good experience in the church of their childhood. Howard has given testimony to me about his conversion experience. I didn’t get the opportunity to ask Jim. It will be interesting to see how they respond today in the service, but I’m really glad they will be coming.

Bottom line: I’m thankful for an enjoyable visit during a very difficult period of time.

For some reason, my family and I feel under attack from the enemy. Other than this visit, yesterday was incredibly difficult.

As a family, we are continuing to ask the Lord what He wants out of us, and we are calling out to Him for help.

My spirit resonates with the final two verses of Psalm 143. I’m going to quote these verses from two translations. "For your name's sake, O Lord, preserve my life! In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble! And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant" (Psalm 143:11, 12 ESV) and "Save my life, O Lord, for Your name’s sake; in Your righteousness, bring my life out of trouble and free me from distress. And in your mercy and loving-kindness, cut off my enemies and destroy all those who afflict my inner self, for I am Your servant" (Psalm 143:11, 12 AMP).

The curious phrase in the ESV is “adversaries of my soul.” The Amplified Bible translates it as “all those who afflict my inner self.” What on earth is the Psalmist talking about? Is it a physical enemy? Well, maybe. Verse three of Psalm 143 seems to indicate this: “For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; HE has made me sit in darkness like those long dead” (verse 3, ESV, all capitals are mine).

Verse nine, however, refers to “enemies” possibly indicating another type of adversary. Could this possibly be a reference to spiritual warfare in the Old Testament? I don’t want to read too much into this, but I think so.

Who knows? Regardless of who this is, it is a battle waged on the soul, the inner self of the Psalmist. It hits him in the area of his essential personality, the seat of his mind, will, and emotions. That is the biblical distinction of the word “soul.”

I can’t help but think that this conflict, whatever it is, is somehow related to what is going on with my family and me right now.

Lord, we certainly don’t understand what is going on, but as a family, we are crying out to you for help and strength and grace. Destroy the adversaries of our soul.

Thank you for the brief break you provided yesterday. Thank you for Howard and Jim and Charlotte. I lift them up to you. I pray that you would use the message today from your Word to touch Howard and Jim as they come.

I pray for everyone in the congregation and everyone who is reading this blog. I pray that you would deliver them from those who afflict the inner self. I recommit myself to you today, Lord Jesus.

“Are you waling daily be the Savior’s side?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Do you rest each moment in the Crucified?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?” (“Are You Washed in the Blood,” BH 2008, 229). Three good questions. One repeated. Amen.
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Living in the Middle of Contradiction

Again, one of the things I love about 2 Corinthians are the biographical references Paul gives us as he defends himself. In chapter six, he tosses out words like “beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights” (2 Corinthians 6:5, ESV). We can go to Acts and find some of these words fleshed out, but others we don’t see there or don’t get the full picture. I’m not sure any of us can even imagine what Paul went through.

There is the physical hardship of suffering, and that is bad enough, but suffering comes in a lot of other forms as well. I believe the mental and emotional aspects are just as difficult, maybe more so, in terms of its effect on one’s life. Paul makes this point as he concludes his litany of suffering with some fascinating contradictions. He finishes off this aspect of the list in this way: "As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything." (2 Corinthians 6:10 ESV).

This morning, I am particularly interested in the final contradiction: “as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” What does this mean?

Well, I’m not sure exactly, but I can hazard some guesses.

Remember that Paul lived the itinerant life of a missionary. It wasn’t as if he owned a mansion in the suburbs of Antioch. He was on the move constantly. This type of lifestyle, especially back then, dictated that one did not have a lot of “stuff” to deal with.

As I think about this, two things come to mind this morning. First, when I was a kid, a missionary family joined our church. They were only going to be stateside for a few months, but one Sunday, they stood up in the service and said that they needed a kitchen table and some chairs. It just so happened that my family had an extra set we wanted to unload. We told this family, and they came by and picked up this table and set of chairs. All well and good.

A couple of months later, we received a knock on the door one evening. It was this family. They had the table and chairs we gave them. The husband said, “Thanks a lot for letting us use these. We really appreciate it. But we are heading off and wanted to return them to you.”

Oh, okay. They were mobile. They couldn’t lug furniture along with them.

Second, I remember meeting a gal in seminary. We spent some time together. She indicated that she felt called to some type of mission work, but I remember something she said, “I make sure that all of my possessions fit into my Honda car or I don’t keep whatever it is.” Her car was not that large, but she wanted to make sure that she was mobile. Interesting.

These two scenarios remind me of what must have been Paul’s lifestyle. He was poor as we would regard poverty. He just didn’t have that much, but it was by intent.

Having said that, however, the flip side of the coin is the truth that, in Jesus, he really owned everything. As far as this world is concerned, he did not have much. As far as the world to come, though, he owned it all. I think this is what Paul is talking about when he uses the phrase “eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17, ESV). Someday, we will stagger under the pleasant weight of carrying the unfathomable riches of our life in the presence of God forever.

I struggle with how to word it. None of us can conceive with our limited minds.

But these contradictions are the world Paul lived in, and the one in fact all of us inhabit. This earthly life is so limited and temporary. It is a drop in the bucket compared to the reality of eternity.

Another way of putting it is that people in the world will never be able to perceive us in the truest way. They only see the visible things. They only see our bank account or lack thereof. But this is not the complete picture. This is not what is really going on.

As a result, most of us experience rejection and are not lauded as “successful” in this world. Even folks in the church don’t esteem genuine spiritual leadership, as they should all the time. Christians are not immune to adopting worldly perspectives of other believers and preachers on occasion. And of course, preachers love the acclaim of the world. We love to take credit for things that only God can do. So, both sides play into this fault.

Paul refused to play these games. Instead, his list of contradictions is an indictment of worldliness in the church at Corinth and an affirmation of the real truth about his ministry. In essence, what he is saying is this: “you see me one way and only one way because your heart is not right; but the truth is—I am in a diametrically opposite situation. You see me as poor and you are right about that from a purely worldly perspective, but the truth I actually own everything.”

As I read these words today, I realize that my failure is that I so often adopt a worldly perspective of my own life and ministry. I allow this truncated viewpoint to pull me in and DOWN along with it.

This happened last night in a rather weird way. I was visiting with my friend Gary. We were texting back and forth. He told me that he and his family had found a new church in Colorado Springs and then he wrote, “U would be proud of me.”

“Why?” I responded.

He and his family are attending a Southern Baptist Church! Wow. I’m still shocked a bit. They have been attending a mega church in the Springs, but recently, they have felt led to look for another church. And they found this SBC church right down the street from their home. It is called Vanguard. It is a relatively new church plant that is now meeting in what once was a movie theater.

I urge you to check it out online. It is a vibrant and growing congregation full of young families and children. And I thank the Lord that He led Gary and his family to go there.

But . . . I have to tell you that looking at that website and learning about that new young and vibrant congregation pulled me in the tank last night. Why isn’t this happening at the church I serve? Instead, we keep losing people, as they come and go and drift away for various reasons. It is difficult for us just to keep our heads above water. We seem to be losing more folks than we can gain, and we certainly aren’t reaching younger families.

If I really spend time dwelling on all of this, I could go down even lower than the tank! But this is the worldly perspective—the human side. Deep down in my heart, however, I affirm that in spite of appearances, the Lord has his hand on this church, and as a result, Satan is attacking.

I was talking about this with Betty the other day. As an example, she said Bill told her that someone drove his/her car on our front lawn the other day, tearing it up rather severely. What on earth is THAT all about? This is just one small thing. I could list many other things, weird things, that are going on right now.

My point is: it isn’t about numbers and appearances. I’m glad for Vanguard and rejoice that my friend and his family are going there. Praise God! But we are different. And God is at work in Northglenn as well. Why would Satan attack something that is no threat to him?

Lord, I thank you for the contradictions. I rejoice in the fact that this world is NOT reality. What we see, what we hear, what we touch, what taste—this is all passing away. I’m thankful for the reality of eternity that is true right now.

I confess my discouragement with appearances. I’m so easily swayed when I allow my perceptions and perspectives to take over.

Thank you for Vanguard Church. Thank you that Gary and his family are going there. Bless Pastor Kelly, his family, and the congregation. Use them mightily to reach many more folks in north Colorado Springs with the gospel.

I lift up the ministry of First Southern. Keep me eyes—keep our eyes—riveted on you.

“Here, Lord, I give myself away,
‘Tis all that I can do” (“Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed,” BH 2008, 228). Amen.
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Validated--Or Not--in the Details

Validated—Or Not—in the Details

As the old expression goes, “the devil is in the details.”

I continue to follow this Penn State “thing” as a report came out yesterday about what actually happened. Basically, this abuse of children was on going and no one, from the president of the university on down to custodians, did anything to stop it. Implicated in all of this, no matter what his son claims in an interview last night, has tarnished the legacy of one of the greatest coaches in the history of college football—Joe Paterno—Joe Pa.

One of my golf buddies growing up—Dave—and his family were rabid Penn State fans. I think Dave’s dad went to college there. We talked often about what a great coach and leader Joe Pa was. He ran a clean program, free of scandal. And he helped his players graduate and have successful careers after graduation.

He worked at Penn State for over sixty years—SIXTY! That is a long time no matter how you look at it. And, of course, it is very rare in our mobile culture for anyone to stay anywhere that long.

Here is the thing that strikes me about all of it, however. It is entirely possible to have a squeaky clean record for sixty years—as Joe Pa did—and yet, have all of it tarnished in the final days of his tenure. After he was forced out as head coach, he died of cancer. And even though he is dead, more of the sordid details of his involvement (or better, non-involvement) keep coming out.

Bobby Bowden, former head coach at Florida State, a believer and a deacon, claimed in an article I read this morning that his former coaching buddy “made a serious mistake.”

I was listening to a local sports talk show on the radio yesterday afternoon. The hosts were interviewing a columnist from a newspaper in Philadelphia. The reporter indicated that there was a movement afoot to tear down the statue of Joe Paterno outside of Beaver Stadium in Happy Valley.

What a tragedy! And of course, more than feeling bad for the coach, my heart goes out to all the children whose lives were impacted—first and foremost.

But back to Joe Pa—his story confirms what Paul claims about the ministry as he continues to defend himself from his detractors in Corinth. There is a phrase in the passage I read this morning in the Message version that stands out:
"Companions as we are in this work with you, we beg you, please don't squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us. God reminds us, I heard your call in the nick of time; The day you needed me, I was there to help. Well, now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped. Don't put it off; don't frustrate God's work by showing up late, throwing a question mark over everything we're doing. Our work as God's servants gets validated—or not—in the details” (2 Corinthians 6:1-3, MSG).

Validated—or not—how ominous can anything be?

Here is a football coach with a stainless record for sixty plus years, but when he failed to do anything about one of his coaches whom he knew was abusing boys (his son denies that he knew—whatever), his whole tenure is tarnished.

The stakes are much higher for Christian leaders. You can do much more damage than anything that is currently occurring at Penn State.

And I will tell you: the longer I serve this church as pastor, the stakes get higher as to the damage I could cause if I blow it in some way.

Paul defends his ministry by listing all the situations and hardships he faced such as beatings and imprisonments. He cited his character in and during all of that. And, finally, he referred to the various ways he had been misperceived and misunderstood. That is the most difficult thing of all.

Everyone one of these “details” gave Paul a choice. He could decide how he was going to respond, and unfortunately (I don’t like it but so what?) all the good, no matter how long one does it, can be tarnished when you don’t handle ONE detail in a godly and appropriate way.

No matter what your record is—your one misstep makes front page news, and even if it proves to be untrue—it doesn’t go away.

How does anyone make it with integrity? Well, again, the only way is the power of God. No one can stand up under this.

I’ve said this before. I think it is wrong, but Christians put their leaders on pedestals and pedestals are made for falling off.

Even as I write this today, I have a chill up my spine.

Lord, thank you for the grace and mercy you have extended to me. I am certainly far from perfect—far, far, far. But I thank you for helping me so far.

Rid out of my life today anything that could potentially tarnish the witness and testimony of the church I serve. It isn’t about my personal legacy (as everyone is talking about Joe Pa). I don’t care about that. I’ll leave that up to you. It is about the testimony of Jesus, the name of Jesus, and his church, and my family name.

Oh, God, please keep me from ever doing anything that could tarnish any of those.

Help me to be a good steward of every relationship and every difficulty and every challenge. Only you can do this.

“The blood that gives me strength from day to day—
It will never lose its power” (“The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power,” BH 2008, 227). Amen.
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The Grace of God in Vain

There is a phrase in the passages I read this morning that is very troubling. I’ve struggled with it today.

Let me cite it: "Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain" (2 Corinthians 6:1 ESV). “We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” What on earth does this mean?

Here is the Amplified Bible translation. "LABORING TOGETHER [as God’s fellow workers] with Him then, we beg of you not to receive the grace of God in vain [that merciful kindness by which God exerts His holy influence on souls and turns them to Christ, keeping and strengthening them--do not receive it to no purpose]." (2 Corinthians 6:1 AMP). This helps a bit. Receiving the grace of God means receiving it to no purpose, but still, what is this all about?

As I was praying about it and asking the Lord for wisdom, another verse came to mind: "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me" (1 Corinthians 15:10 ESV).

Paul affirms in his own experience that the grace of God was not in vain, and he links this comment with his hard work. He could claim credit here, but even in this instance, he does not. He credits the grace of God for the work he does that proves grace was not in vain in his life.

Humm.

Let me see if I can put this together this morning, but before I do, I need to make some comments about yesterday.

Please pray for a dear brother in our church. I visited him in the hospital yesterday. His name is Richard. When I was first diagnosed with cancer, Richard was very prominent in his responses to me in the guestbook in Caring Bridge.

Ever since he first started coming to First Southern and joined the fellowship, he has been someone that I have turned to for advice and council. He is just one of those guys. He has gone out of his way to encourage me. And I appreciate it so much.

But over the past year or so, his health has deteriorated. His family moved him in to live with his son and his family. Since then, I have sort of lost touch with Richard. That isn’t his fault. It is mine. Some of the men in our congregation as well as Betty have continued to minister to him and visit with him on occasion.

But his daughter called the church the other day to tell us he was in the hospital and that she was concerned about him. That’s why I went yesterday.

We had the opportunity for a good, long visit. He is dealing with a lot of health issues plus some other things. We were able to visit about those for a while. After an hour or so, an orderly brought his lunch to him. I felt at the point that I needed to go. We prayed together. And I told him I would see him again soon. I love this brother.

That’s one thing. The other occurred after the Bible study last night. Jorge saw me. He was excited. “Pastor John, Antonio is here tonight. He and his wife are in the auditorium.” I ran. I saw this brother and gave him a big hug. It was wonderful to see him again.

He and his wife serve a large church in one of the inner city areas of Lima, Peru. He has known Jose, the pastor of the Hispanic church that meets in the building, for years.

A couple of years ago, Jose invited him to do a marriage and family retreat for his congregation. One Saturday a couple of years ago, I drove up to the mountains to be a part of it for a little while. There is so much to say at this point, but the Lord has led Antonio to focus on challenging the men of his congregation to be godly husbands and fathers. Each year, his church sponsors a retreat for men. He challenges them, BIG TIME. This is not sissy stuff.

When they return from the retreat, the plan is that their families—wives and children—are there to meet them. Then and there, the men get up before everyone, confessing their sins as dads and fathers, and getting right with their families. In this service, there are tears and hugs and celebrations. I know this for two reasons.

Antonio had a video he showed me after the retreat later on that week in my office. It is incredible.

And, Jose took some men in his congregation down to Lima to be a part of this retreat. When they returned, the same thing happened. And, these men shared their experiences in the Anglo church the next Sunday.

Antonio leads these retreats every year. Hundreds and hundreds of men from all over the world attend.

Anyway, he was there last night. We visited for a while. I invited him to come and preach in the Anglo church when he returns to the United States. I can hardly wait for the congregation I serve and for the men in particular, to receive his challenge.

Back to the passage—could it be that Richard and Antonio are two very good examples of men of God who have not received the grace of God in vain or to no purpose.

Sadly, I am afraid that too many Christians get saved and then, for lack of a better way of putting, sit on the grace of God. They turn it into a commodity that they enjoy for themselves but rarely, if ever, share with someone else.

That is not the life and example of Paul. Having received God’s grace (which, according to Ephesians 2:8-9, is by grace through faith—not of works lest any man should boast), he then turns to work hard in the ministry of the gospel precisely because of God’s grace (this fits Ephesians 2:10).

Oh, Lord, I thank you for the grace that saved a wretch like me. I am deeply grateful today. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the grace that saves.

Father, forgive me for “sitting on my laurels” as a child of God. I choose today to turn from that and recommit myself to the ministry of the gospel. Give me an opportunity to share today.

I pray for Richard. Strengthen him and give him grace as he struggles physically. I pray for healing.

I also lift up brother Antonio and the ministry of his congregation in Lima. Bless this brother and his wife and his family. Give him a safe trip as he returns to Lima on Friday.

“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me” (“Amazing Grace! How Sweet the Sound,” BH 2008, 104). Amen.
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A Rather Dubious Anniversary

Two years ago today or maybe it was yesterday—July 10th (I’m kind of glad I don’t remember EXACTLY, but I will never forget, no matter how hard I try and I shouldn’t)—I woke up on a Sunday morning and immediately felt it. What on earth is going on? It was a rather strange swelling in my lower abdomen.

My life has never been the same since.

I’ve heard that with people who have limbs amputated that sometimes they still feel their arms or legs. They FEEL that they still have them.

I don’t pretend to understand that totally, but honestly, sometimes, I still feel as if that bulge is there. I lived with it so long—many months. Honestly, after any kind of exertion, I still have pain in that spot. Not long ago, I asked Dr. Jotte about it. He always checks that area, but he responded, “Well, John, the lymph nodes in that part of your body will always be swollen to some degree.” One other time, he said, “There still could be some cancer cells in there that we just can’t see. Who knows?”

Great.

All of this to say that, even though it has been two years, I still have constant reminders about the bulge. And I am sure I always will.

I think this is the toughest thing for people to realize who have never had cancer. They want it to be over. They want me to get back to “normal.” But that is impossible, even if I wanted that. And I don’t.

But it is just hard for people to grasp the impact of a long-term illness. I know I never understood it, and still don’t, in many ways.

The other day, someone said, “So, you are good now and done with treatment?” I had to pause for a second. I am good now? Even when I had cancer, I was “good”—not in an intrinsic moral sense but as far as the care I am receiving from God is concerned. In that arena, I’m always good.

Done with treatment? Ah, no. I still have nine months to go and then the hard part begins. The reason I say that is now, I am on a schedule. I have a routine where I go get very regular check-ups and treatments. It is still difficult, more difficult than the doctor told me they would be, but there is an element of comfort in this routine. I have the assurance that if one of those stray cells becomes cancerous or becomes visible, the doctor will catch it.

But what about after next March when I’m done? I still won’t be done, in more ways than one. I will still have check-ups and scans and doctor visits—there will just be more time between all of those things. It will be weird. I can already tell you.

I’m sure, though, that there will be folks who will ask, “So, now you really are done with treatment—everything’s good, right?”

Well, you get the point. I won’t belabor it.

Back to the anniversary—the other side of the coin is that I thank God from the bottom of my heart for the mercy He showed me in allowing that bulge to appear. Many folks who have cancer have no symptoms or ignore symptoms so that when they finally get diagnosed, things have advanced to a very serious level.

I realize that my cancer may have re-occurred and it is advancing right now and the doctors just can’t see it. If that is so, I am still good, and the Lord is still taking care of me.

I would be lying if I said that I don’t have those kinds of thoughts, not a lot, but every now and again. They can drive one crazy, however, and I just put them out of my mind—turning them over to Jesus.

But two years! Really, has it been two years? In some ways, it seems as if it was yesterday. In other ways, it feels as if it were lifetimes ago. So much has changed. So much is different for me. I can’t begin to list all the ways. Maybe I need to in this blog at some point.

Well, anyway, all this brings me back to some things that I said yesterday. I’m earnestly seeking direction as to where the Lord wants all this to go from here. As much as I want to put my cancer experiences out of my mind and be “normal” at times, I can’t and shouldn’t. I believe the Lord wants to use this experience as a platform.

Please pray with me that the Lord would show me how and where and what that means. Where does one go to reach people who have cancer? How do you get your foot in the door in places like that?

I have relationships with folks at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center. One thing I want to do is to offer myself as a resource there. What does that mean? Is it a seminar? Is it one-on-one? What does that look like and is that place going to be open to a current patient functioning in that role?

I imagine that there are a lot of so-called ministers out there who want to come and “help” cancer patients. And the kind of help they offer would not be a help at all.

I have some other ideas. I will just continue to pray and see what the Lord wants. I am waiting for the book to be published first.

Again, all of this brings me to the Lord in total dependence on Him, now more than ever. The Psalmist echoes this attitude of dependency.
"Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord! I have fled to you for refuge! Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!" (Psalm 143:8-10 ESV).

Level ground. I like that imagery. When I am trying to go up a hill or when I am heading downhill, the potential is for my foot to slip, especially on a severe slop either way. But the Worshiper here is asking the Holy Spirit to give solidness and firmness to his path and steps. This is what I need today.

Oh, Lord, I thank you for the bulge. Thank you so much for alerting me to the fact that I have cancer. Thank you for the way you have led me so far—these two years.

I confess that there are still times that I wonder what is going to happen and where all this is headed. Wherever and whatever, I know it will be good. I’m good.

I pray for wisdom and direction concerning the ministry you have for me through cancer. “Make me know the way I should go.” “Let your Spirit lead me on level ground.”

“When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail” (“Standing on the Promises,” BH 2008, 339). Amen.
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Odds and Ends

Odds and Ends

This is rather a strange title for today, but I couldn’t think of anything else. I have a variety of things to share today.

First, please pray for my family. We are all having a hard time, each in our own way. I don’t want to go into detail at this point, but I felt the urgency to share this.

As we were talking and praying the other night, the Lord led us to think about folks in our congregation that were also having a hard time, and we made some decisions about trying to minister to them.

One of us said, “Well, it is easy to get buried in our own problems. It will help for us to think about someone else for a change.”

Being a pastor is not only my profession but also it is my passion and love, but after last week, I realized how easy it is to get buried in my personal “stuff.” This definitely happened last week. I felt so isolated and alone, but this is no one’s fault but my own.

Please pray for a dear brother who has been coming to our church fairly regularly since Calla became our Minister to the Families of Children. I know I have mentioned him in this blog before. His name is George. He is a retired pastor who writes a column about churches for the Broomfield Enterprise. He has written a couple of very complimentary articles about us in his column. He and I have developed a friendship. I appreciate him very much.

Anyway, recently, a test showed that his prostate cancer had returned and yesterday he started a rather aggressive regimen of hormone treatments. We corresponded via email and he admitted he was a little nervous about it. Of course! Please pray for him.

Yesterday was a very difficult day. I just could not stay awake. I did some sermon work in the morning. I was way behind in that regard, but I battled dropping off to sleep the whole time. It didn’t help that it was cloudy and rainy all morning—perfect sleep weather.

After lunch, I went to sit on my mom’s back porch and dropped off to sleep there as well. When I woke up, I tried to do more work and accomplished a few things, but I finally gave up late afternoon—just one of those days.

Again, on days like yesterday, I don’t know if my fatigue has to do with where I am with my cancer treatment or it is just a reflection of my body trying to recover from a very stressful week last week. Who knows? But the bottom line for me is that I feel I am at least trying to do a better job of taking care of myself.

I realize that to a person on the outside, this may appear rather selfish and self-focused. So be it. Somehow, in Christian circles (and someone said this to me the other day when we were talking about ministry), there is a feeling that self-total disregard is a very commendable spiritual quality. In other words, if I give out and my health deteriorates because I am serving the Lord, then I am some sort of hero.

I think this philosophy is bunk—more so now than ever.

My mom said something to me all the years I was growing up. I wish I had listened and taken her comment more seriously. She said, “John, if you don’t take care of yourself, no one else is going to do it.”

Anyway, in spite of all my drowsiness and sleepiness yesterday, I did get one significant thing accomplished: I signed off on the Galley Proof of my book! In a couple of weeks, I should have a printed copy of it to look over and check. Once I do that, the next step is publication! I tell you—I can’t believe what a long and arduous process this has been! And it has been complicated by the fact that I am stepping up my focus and efforts at the church. That is all well and good in a lot of ways. Not good in others.

I feel that, slowly and surely, I am drifting back into a mode where writing is becoming almost impossible, and I just can’t let that happen to me again.

As I have said before, one of the main legacies of cancer for me is that I firmly believe that the Lord is calling me to write. This is no contradiction to my work as a pastor, but it is a compliment to it, a further expansion of ministry. But this is NOT something you can smash in here and there. It takes time and space and leisure.

Therefore, please pray for me as I try to discern how to carve out that type of time. The best time is very early in the morning. No doubt about it. Thus, it may mean some type of modification about the way I write this daily blog. I’m never going to stop, but it might need to be a little different.

A couple of odds and ends about what is going to happen when the book is published. First, I feel the need to make a transition out of Caring Bridge. I’ve talked about this before. I will give everyone plenty of notice, and my daily blogs will still be very accessible on my personal website, www.pastorjohnsblog.com, as they are now. I believe there will also be ways to leave feedback, the equivalent of writing in the Guestbook. I so appreciate the comments I receive in that venue. I definitely want that to continue.

Second, please pray that the Lord will show me how He wants me to use cancer as a platform for ministry. I have some ideas that I would like to pursue, and the book only enhances those opportunities. I’m excited to see how the Lord is going to use it. Again, I believe with all my heart that the Lord led (is leading) me to write because He wants a message “out there”—wherever that might be.

Third, the burden of book number two is on my heart. I’m going to go to a different publisher on this project and approach it in a totally different way. I’m excited to see what is going to happen.

All of this is a matter of discipline and choices and carving out time—I’m asking the Lord to help me with all of this.

It is certainly something I can’t accomplish on my own. This leads me to the verse for today, an absolutely incredible statement from the Holy Spirit inspired pen of the Apostle Paul. I will cite two versions. "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV). And, "How? you ask. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God" (2 Corinthians 5:21 MSG).

“We might become the righteousness of God.” How on earth? No way to deserve it, for sure, and certainly no way to explain it.

In the context of this discussion in the book of 2 Corinthians, this is Paul’s final and definitive answer to the Judaizers in the church who opposed him. Righteousness is not something anyone can accomplish; it is someone Jesus makes! I become the righteousness of God in Christ. Wow.

Lord, I thank you for what you are up to in your kingdom, in the church I serve, in my family, and in my life. I think you for the gift of righteousness. Jesus became sin so I could become righteous in your eyes. I’m certainly NOT righteous, no where near it, but through Jesus, I BECOME righteous.

I pray for George today. I pray that his treatments yesterday were not that harsh or difficult. Heal him, Lord.

I thank you for the book. Guide me in sharing your Word from the platform of cancer. I pray that you would help me with book number two—an equally vital message that must get out there.

“Would you o’er evil a victory win?
There’s wonderful power in the blood” (“There Is Power in the Blood,” BH 2008, 225). Amen.
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"Congressman Barney Frank marries longtime partner"

This was the title of an article in USA Today yesterday. I get this newspaper as an app on my IPad.

Do I have to know this?

Apparently, Congressman Frank is retiring from his position in government after over three decades of service. I guess he figures it is okay to take this step now since he is leaving office.

I have no idea.

Somehow, I can’t get this off my mind. It bothers and troubles me deeply on many levels, none of which have to do with politics.

Recently, here in Colorado, we dealt with the whole issue of “civil unions.” It was a bill that came up in our state legislature. Governor Hickenlooper did everything he could do to give it a chance to pass, even calling for a special session to address it, but thank goodness, the bill died in committee. I don’t know if I said that right, and I’m not sure what that means in our process.

But, whatever, I’m glad it died, however that occurred. And a vast majority of American citizens don’t want it. Pick the state.

Someone told me that, at best, only fifteen percent of the population is for it. Under normal circumstances, this would spell huge trouble for almost issue. It would have no hope of passing with those kinds of numbers.

But I know that THIS issue fits in a different category. After this recent defeat, proponents of gay marriage asserted themselves again. They vowed that they were going to get this through.

And this minority has a lot of help. First, the media is on their side. This little article is included with other mainstream news as if we were talking about John and Mary getting married—a picture of two men with their arms around each other. Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t that cute?

It makes me sick.

Somehow, as this goes on, it seems to be more mainstream. It is presented as something very normal. And the temptation in all of it is that somehow, it just doesn’t bother us as much as it once did.

Here is one of the leaders of our country, ostensibly someone who, as a leader, is called to set an example to others about morality. Instead, he is marrying another man in a state in our country that promotes and recognizes this type of relationship.

But it just keeps going on and it bothers us less and less. I’m sure that is what the very determined minority that supports “civil unions” hopes for, but you can bet that they will stay at it. They will keep working to make sure that this gets passed.

I wonder if there will be some equally determined folks on the right side who are determined that it doesn’t.

But the concern for morality does not stop with the gay marriage issue. It impacts (or should) other areas as well. In the Denver Post this morning, I came across this article—“Politicians letting loose more often with foul language.” How about that? This article references a lot of examples, most of them very contemporary, but I still remember how shocked I was to hear Richard Nixon’s profanity on the Watergate tapes.

Back in the early seventies, there was no way a politician would use swear words or profanity and not suffer for it. No way.

But now, it is becoming more and more commonplace. Like the gay marriage issue, I think it is just another one of those issues with which we become desensitized and somehow, it just doesn’t bother us any more.

Why am I so up in arms about all of this morning? Because I recognize that this is something I struggle with—becoming more and more desensitized to temptation and sin I struggle with. After a while, it is just easier to compromise and/or decide that it really isn’t all that bad.

I was so grateful yesterday for everyone who told me that they were praying for me on my “ministry issue.” I appreciate this so much. No one who shared my concern seemed interested in wanting to know exactly what I was talking about. I also appreciate this as well.

It is on-going in my life. But I am grateful that the Lord is using these two articles and Barney Frank’s “wedding” in particular, to give me further impetus in my own walk with Jesus.

I love the words of Paul that I read today as they relate to all of this. A couple of days ago, I talked about the “love canyon”—Paul’s statement that the love of Christ (by the way this is not only a love he gives to others but a love he has received himself) boxes him in and leaves him no choice as to how he responds to people.

Having made this assertion, he goes further to say, "From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:16, 17 ESV).

What does this mean as it relates to how I should feel about Barney Frank? Well, it shows me that I should pray for him and his “partner” (I HATE that word too) because they are both desperately lost and need Jesus, and somehow, they are pursuing a very empty and immoral way of life as a result.

And I need to pray for others in our country that live in or advocate this misguided and sinful lifestyle.

It also reinforces the fact that our main job as Christians, while not neglecting the political processes and advocacy for traditional marriage and clean language and voting for folks who are moral, is to share the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit so that Jesus could save folks.

As Christians, we need to get off our good intentions and share.

Last night, as my mom and sister got home from going out to eat. Our newest neighbor across the street was working on his sprinkling system. I decided that I would just go over and introduce myself. His name is Brad. His son was with him. The little boy is probably under the age of five. His name is Anthony. We met and had a good visit. Turns out Brad is a golfer. Maybe this means there is further opportunity for relationship there that the Lord could use.

Anyway, back to 2 Corinthians. Beyond what I have just said, these verses are a stark reminder to me that the Lord has done radical work in my life—not a repair job but a total replacement. The old John has died, and the new John, a brand new creation that has never existed before, is now on the scene.

I appropriate that new life and lifestyle today, by faith, Lord. And I am so grateful for what you did for me the moment of salvation. Through my identification with Jesus, I died with Christ, was buried, and rose with Him to a brand new life, where the old is gone and everything is new.

I pray for Barney Frank and our governmental leaders and our country as a whole. Wake us up. Send a spiritual awakening in our land and revival in the church where sin—in our land and in our lives—still bothers us and moves us to action.

“And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains” (“There Is a Fountain,” BH 2008, 224). Amen.
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Surrounded by the Righteous

Last night, as I was getting ready to hit the hay, some things started to come together in my mind and heart. I want to share some of them this morning.

First, please pray for my mom. When people ask me how she is doing these days, my stock answer is, “Physically, she seems to be doing better, but her struggles are emotional.” Here is a person who has basically lived on her own for years (since my dad died and Marilyn and I were in Texas going to college and seminary), but now, she is not able to drive and has no independence. She is struggling with it, more than ever.

I keep telling her that I believe that one of the greatest decisions she ever made was the choice to stop driving. Her eyesight issues just don’t allow it. But still, having made that decision, she still has to live with the ramifications of it. It is very difficult for her. So, thanks for praying.

Second, as I have been discussing my “ministry issue,” the past week or so, it has been interesting to see the speculation regarding what on earth it is that I am talking about. Helen, a dear sister in Jesus and one of our seniors, sent me a very encouraging message last night. She said she was sorry about all the criticism I was facing these days.

I wrote her back to tell her that I was NOT facing a lot of criticism these days and that our church was as unified as ever. This is NOT what I was talking about. My “ministry issue” does not relate to that. I told her not to worry and thanked her for her concern.

My “ministry issues” relate to personal issues and struggles.

But here is what the Lord is working on in my life: how do I deal with those personal issues and struggles? More importantly, do I just gut them out alone or is there some role for the body of Christ?

I was talking with the men about this a few weeks ago as we were concluding our Resolution study. Over the couple of months that I met with Bill, J. B., Bob, Paul, and Bryan (Jay joined us toward the end of our time), I felt that we got more and more comfortable sharing with one another—not just “surface” stuff, but struggles and faults and foibles and yes, even sins.

I urged them to find an accountability partner and defined that person as “someone who loves you, no matter what, who walks the delicate line of affirmation without condoning sin.”

What none of us needs is someone who looks down his nose at us in a condescending way when we fail. I’ll tell you—when I get that, it is a total turn-off and makes me never want to share with that individual ever again.

I think I have told the story in this blog about a family I was visiting with several years ago. I was really struggling with a situation at church. It was eating my lunch just as things have been this past week, and as I was sharing, one of the folks in this family said, “Oh, quite whining.” It shocked me a bit. It totally shut me down. It was like someone filled my mouth with sand and I couldn’t speak.

That is NOT what any of us needs. We need folks who will love us enough to listen and esteem what we are sharing as significant because they care about us.

At the same time, however, we DON’T need an accountability partner who just condones everything we do, no matter what it is. Instead, when we sin, we need someone who will get in our face (in love, of course) and tell us “how the cow ate the cabbage,” as the old expression goes.

In other words, and here are the words that come to mind. Paul uses them both in 2 Timothy 3:16 as he talks about the Word of God. The words are “rebuke” and “correction.” These two elements are missing in the contemporary American church. When they emerge in any form, people get their dander up and get mad.

But here is my question: when and where should this happen, if not the church?

Sadly, tragically, however, this has been lost so that people just deal with stuff “privately” and struggle and no one in the church ever even knows about it. We are afraid to “offend” people so we don’t confront sin, as we should. Something is drastically wrong with this.

This sounds very cliché, and I don’t mean it to, but WE NEED EACH OTHER IN THE BODY OF CHRIST.

Therefore, what does this mean? Well, it means that we need to be able to share our deepest struggles with one another. I recognize when I say that—there are appropriate times and places for this. Some things don’t need to be sharing in the service on a Sunday morning. But in an appropriate time and place—we need to have the freedom to share, and having done that, to open ourselves up to the painful ministry of rebuke and correction.

When this doesn’t happen, Christians suffer in silence, dealing with issues in their lives and feeling totally and completely alone.

I believe our privatizing and individualizing of the Christian life is the culprit for this. This is the lesson the Lord is teaching me these days.

And, Psalm 142 enforces this. There is no other was to say it but that the Psalmist is depressed and discouraged and calls out to God feeling totally alone:
"Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul. I cry to you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.’ Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low! Deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me! Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your name! The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me" (Psalm 142:4-7 ESV).

I cannot get over the fact that one of the crucial elements of the Psalmist’s deliverance is “the righteous will surround me.” This statement reminds me of what happened to Paul at Lystra. His enemies stoned him and left him for dead, but the church “surrounded” him, and miraculously, he got up off the deck, went right back into the city, and continued his ministry.

THAT is what we need.

O Lord, thank you for the angst and the struggles of this week. I certainly don’t understand everything that you are teaching me yet, but thank for this little bit of insight. Show me more.

I confess that as a pastor I am as guilty as anyone of the privatizing and individualization of the faith. No more!

I lift up my mom today. I pray for everyone in the church who is discouraged or struggling and may feel totally alone.

Help us all to learn about what the body of Christ should really be about.

“Till all the ransomed church of God
Be saved to sin no more” (“There Is a Fountain,” BH 2008, 224). So be it in my life, Lord. Amen.
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The Love Canyon

That title probably sounds a little strange. It could be a ride at Elitches (this is the name of the amusement park here in Denver) or a matchmaking show like the Dating Game.

I’m NOT using it in either one of those ways!

In the latter half of 2 Corinthians 5, Paul continues to defend his ministry to his critics in Corinth. In essence, these verses in chapters 2 to 7 are an explication of Paul’s heart, his motives in ministry.

Yesterday, I referred to his repeated statements about confidence.

In the verses I read today, it is all about love. He sets the tone for the statement I want to quote by alluding to his ministry. Some thought Paul was crazy. Paul responds, “If I am, it is for the glory of God.”

Others did not think he was crazy, and I think the implication of the accusation of this group is worse: they accused him of making wrong decisions and taking the wrong course of action as a leader. This is a much more serious charge, but once again, Paul has a response, “If I am in my right mind, it is for your benefit.”

Then, he states, "Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life" (2 Corinthians 5:14 NLT). The Message version translates this verse in the following way, “Christ's love has moved me to such extremes. His love has the first and last word in everything we do.”

This verse is a significant one for me.

When I was in seminary, a church out in the country asked me to preach a sermon at their Valentine’s banquet. The Lord put this verse on my heart to preach at that occasion.

The key word in this verse is “control” in the NLT; “compel” in the NIV84; and my favorite, “constraineth” in the KJV. From my study of this passage for the message I preached back then, I recall that this word essentially means to box in, hem in on all sides.

That definition brought to mind the metaphor of a canyon. Hence—the Love Canyon. That is the way I put it at that banquet. I can still see the expressions on the faces of the folks who were there! They didn’t quite track with what I was saying! Ha. Looking back, I’m not sure my choice of message was the best one for the occasion, but it has formed one of my bedrock values in life and ministry. I certainly don’t adhere to this value all the time. I’m not trying to say that I do, but the Lord continues to teach me what this means.

I believe that Paul was saying, “The love of Christ boxes me in all sides. I can’t escape it. I can’t get out of it. It is as if I am driving a car (if they had been invented then) down a road where my only choice is the love path. If I try to get off of it, even a little, I drive my car over a cliff.” When you look at love this way, it is actually a very safe place to be. As long as I know in my heart of hearts that I am acting in love, I’m on solid ground.

But here is the difficulty. My statement above is not the whole story. As was the case with Paul in his ministry at Corinth and as is so often the case in our day and time, Jesus’ love is not always understood that way. I believe that our culture is so used to seeing “love” portrayed in perverted ways that when they see true love, they don’t grasp it or understand it. In fact, sometimes it is downright offensive to folks.

That was the case with Paul. They were accusing him of being fickle in his decisions and heavy-handed in his discipline. They just didn’t see it right. Paul’s response—I did it out of love. That’s it.

As I come today to the Lord, I have a lot of personal evaluation and introspection to do. What I have written above sounds good, but in all reality, it is one of the most difficult things in the Christian life—to make sure that the fruit of the Spirit is evident in my life. Paul’s list of the fruit (not fruits) in Galatians five, I believe, should be read this way: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV84, except for the fact that I added a colon instead of a comma after love). In short, the fruit of the Spirit, I believe, is love and love includes all those other things.

How can we live this way? It is impossible unless we abide in Jesus, as he exhorts us in John 15. In that chapter in the gospel, he starts of by challenging us to abide in the vine. Later, he links that vine to love. “Now remain in my love” (John 15:9, NIV84).

Anyway, obviously, the passage for today pulls together a lot of central teachings of the New Testament. And it is critical, very critical.

Lord, I thank you for loving me. I don’t deserve your love or merit it in any way.
I confess my numerous failings when it comes to love.

Spirit of God, fill me. Empower me to stay attached to the Vine, Jesus, so that His love—the fruit of the Spirit—would come out in everything I do and say.

“When nothing else could help,
Love lifted me” (“Love Lifted Me,” BH 2008, 107). Amen.
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Godly Confidence

First of all, I just have to say that after another night of tossing and turning as I continued to wrestle with this innocuous “ministry issue,” I woke up this morning, and for the first time in a week, I feel that the load is lighter. I have no real explanation for this except that the Lord is helping me.

This has been one of the strangest and most difficult weeks I have spent in a couple of years.

Yesterday afternoon, I went up to the church to have an appointment with a two brothers.

Afterwards, I went to my house to get a couple of things, and as I was heading that way, it felt as if I was in a foreign country. When I get so myopically focused as I have been the last week, it takes some time to readjust to “normal” life again (whatever that is).

As I sit here this morning, talking all of this over with Jesus, what occurs to me is that the Lord has been asking me to live what Paul went through as he waited in Macedonia for Titus to arrive with news about the response of the church. It was agony for him. It consumed him, and chapters 2:12 through 7:4 are a parenthesis of sorts. Paul is telling his story. He is defending himself against his critics and he gets to the part about the chariots and the captives being dragged behind and that launches him into a discussion of the Christian life and ministry.

As preachers, we call it “chasing a rabbit.” This is typically perceived as being rather negative and off topic (and we’ve heard sermons that fit in this category), but for Paul, it is exactly the opposite. Chasing this rabbit allows him to share his heart through his agony. We learn about what he is thinking and his perspective on things as perhaps we do in no other part of his letters.

He doesn’t handle things in this parenthetical part as I tend to—griping, complaining, crying, moaning, and groaning. He turns it around and sees it as a chance to affirm the truths of the gospel.

At the end of chapter four, he affirms that the things we see are not permanent. They won’t last. Someday, the Lord will fold up this earth like a blanket as He establishes the new heaven and the new earth. It will pass away.

Instead, what is real is the realities that we can’t see.

This sets the stage for his discussion of death and our new lives in Christ. Someday, when we die, we will immediately step into our new home in heaven and we will put on our new bodies, bodies that won’t be subject to deterioration or decay EVER AGAIN. This is a certainty and an inevitability for God’s kids.

And, we know it is going to occur because we already have a down payment—the Holy Spirit of God who dwells within us.

These affirmations lead Paul to make the following statements: "So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body" (2 Corinthians 5:6-10 NLT).

Did you notice as I did this morning that he uses a word twice in this passage? It is translated confidence in the NLT. I just had to look this word up in my Bible software. It is the Greek word tharreo. It means to be bold or to have courage.

In the darkest moments of life, it is entirely possible to have confidence and boldness and courage.

How? Well, verse nine helps me see that if my goal is to please God and to please Him only, then I am on solid ground. I’m on solid ground here and now. I’m on solid ground when I stand before Him on the day he judges the works of believers.

If I can just maintain that focus (there’s that word again), then it fosters confidence and courage.

Lord, thank you for the challenge of today. I thank you for lifting this oppressive burden that I have felt on my back the last week. As I come to you today, I give you the credit for this.

I confess my sins in attitude and action, the past few days.

I turn from that, and affirm my confidence, not in myself, for sure, but totally and completely in you and what you are doing in my life AND my ultimate destiny of death, new life, and confidence before you on the day of judgment.

“Redeeming love has been my them,
And shall be till I die” (“There is a Fountain,” BH 2008, 224). Amen.
Comments

A Memorial Service for a Fetus--A Person

I want to go back to my conversation with Lewis on the night of July 3rd and the reason for his call in the first place.

But before I do, I need to make a few comments about yesterday. I enjoyed the fellowship with Bart and the two guys from his church, Scott and J. R. We had a lot of fun together. On a couple of occasions, a marshal warned us that we were playing too slow and in no uncertain terms, urged us to speed up play.

For those of you who are not golfers (and therefore are more sane than those of us who do), a marshal is NOT a policeman, although some act as if they are! It is usually a retired man who rides around in an electric cart on a golf course just to make sure that the pace of play stays at a good level.

Indeed, one slow group can affect an entire golf course and bog everyone down. I am sympathetic to that. Believe me.

But yesterday was not that type of situation. I don’t know what was going on, to be honest, but I feel that we were being badgered, and it started to make me mad.

But here is my point: Bart and Scott and J. R. were kind and gracious, not lashing out at this guy (as I wanted to do), and we just kept on playing. As it turns out, we finished in four hours and nine minutes—a very reasonable pace for a holiday round.

I still don’t get it and it makes me angry, but oh, well …

I’m thankful for the way these brothers acted. The Lord used them to help me keep my mouth shut. The course we played is a public course, but it does have members, and we were guests yesterday of Scott’s boss who played behind us with three other guys. It would NOT have been good or appropriate for me to get mad and lose it in that type of situation (and of course, in any).

Enough said about that …

One other thing—yesterday afternoon was WEIRD. Everything turned an “orange-y” hue. What was going on? Well, just as the fires in Colorado had abated a bit, some fires in Wyoming intensified! I read this in the Denver Post this morning: we were dealing with smoke from fires in Wyoming! And it was much worse than anything we had experienced from fires here in our state.

I repeat—weird.

Yesterday afternoon reminded me of a time I was playing golf (wonder of wonders) at a course in Arlington, Texas, when I was in seminary, and a dust storm blew in. Everything turned orange that day as well—including my shirt and shoes.

I was talking with some friends who live in Wyoming just the other day—ER and Jackie. Jackie told me that they have a huge problem with multiple fires in Wyoming just as we have in Colorado, but no one on the national news EVER mentions Wyoming. We got a taste of how bad things are yesterday.

Is the whole western part of the United States on fire? It certainly seems that way.

Back to my conversation with Lewis—the reason he called was to ask my advice about a ministry opportunity. A couple called him and asked him to do a memorial service for a little baby who had died after six months in his mother’s womb! Apparently, the father and mother not married but are living together, and they have no church.

What does one do? My first response: I have no idea!

But as we talked, the Lord brought to mind a similar situation I faced. I can’t remember the exact circumstances. But a little baby had died in the womb, and the parents wanted me to do a service for him. I remember, very distinctly, a little tiny blue and gold casket. When I saw it, it hit me. I just burst into tears. I fought to regain my composure. It took me a while.

But then, the Lord gave me a message for that family that day. I shared it with Lewis the other night. I will share it in summary here:

“Folks, this is tragic. Who knows why this little baby died? We could ask the question forever and not get an answer. So, instead of burying ourselves in that question, let’s take some time to celebrate this life. He is now with the Lord in heaven! The Bible affirms that, for believers or for folks who never reach the age of accountability, the Lord has a plan for them from the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4, NASB). The Bible also teaches that, from the moment of conception, your son was a person, and as a result, this person lived six months! It was a short life, to be sure, but it was just as meaningful in the eyes of God as someone who lived 90 years! Let’s thank the Lord for the short but meaningful life of your son. You will see him again in heaven someday.”

This is the same general topic as that of the first few verses of 2 Corinthians 5. I will discuss them more at length at another time, but the verse for today is very short: "We live by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7 NIV84). The New American Standard Bible brings out the literal language, "for we walk by faith, not by sight-" (2 Corinthians 5:7 NASB).

The metaphor of the Christian life as a “walk” is very prominent in the writings of Paul. Step by step. Moment by moment. My focus is not, nor should it ever be, on things I see. This seems contradictory and totally counter-intuitive. Focus is necessarily a function of sight or so it seems, but Paul urges us to live on a different level.

One of Webster’s definitions of focus is “a center of activity or attention.” Our center, whether it is a marshal on a golf course, an untimely death, or a fire in Wyoming, should never be based on what we see but on whom we have placed our faith.

Lord, I thank you for another opportunity to learn what it means to trust you. Thank you for all the challenges and all the difficulties you are bringing my way. Thank you for these very difficult times.

I confess that I am struggling with focus RIGHT NOW.

Strengthen Lewis in that memorial service Saturday in Florida. Give him the words you want him to share.

I commit today to you, Lord. I place it at your feet. I chose to take THIS step in faith.

“E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die” (“There Is a Fountain,” BH 2008, 224). Amen.
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Emerging Out of Whatever It Is

It is difficult for me to explain what it is I have been feeling the past few days—a deep concern and burden. It has been all consuming. I sat down yesterday to study a bit because I am behind on my sermon preparation (yes, I know I am on “vacation” but it really hasn’t been one), but I could not do it. My mind was still on this ministry issue.

My mom and sis have been worried about me. They have seen the anguish, and I just tell them that it goes with the territory, especially with me. I wish I were different. Sometimes, I really do, but I care and I can’t shut it off.

Yesterday evening, however, I felt that the heaviness was starting to lift a bit. Weird to say it that way, but it is the only way I can put it.

The saints of old had an expression. Jack Taylor mentions it in one of his books. I’ll have to look it up today. The expression is “praying through.” How do we get through times of trial? The world tells us just to “gut it out” or “buck up.” I would submit that the Lord calls us to pray our way through.

I’m certainly no expert in this realm because most of the time in my life I have turned to the former approach rather than the latter, but this time, it was as if the Lord would not allow me to go there. I was with my mom and sis and they are always a huge help. Plus, there have been a couple of other brothers with me in the saddle. I praise God for them as well, but mainly, this felt very personal, very solitary—God and me.

I want to be clear at this point: nothing has really been resolved but I have a peace about it. That’s it.

The Lord used two things yesterday to help me out. First, Marilyn reminded me of the message on a tombstone she had come across. Recently, someone email her a picture of it. The message said something like, “Here lies Joe the Atheist. All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go.” The message is a very serious one, for sure. We don’t make light of someone’s eternal destiny, especially when he or she is on the way to hell. That’s for sure, but somehow, we both needed a laugh yesterday and this is something the Lord used to help us.

Second, I got a call from a family who used to be in our church. They reminded me that they moved to Florida sixteen years ago! Are you kidding? Has it really been that long? Lewis and Sharon and their two daughters, Kim and Candice, were very close friends. Lewis, always a servant, is now a pastor. Kim is a Baptist Student Union director of California College in western Pennsylvania. Yes, that is right. I clarified this with her. The town’s name is “California.”

Please pray for her. She is headed to the Olympic games in London in a month to do some ministry there.

We had a good conversation. The Lord used it to help me.

I will tell more about this conversation tomorrow. In the meantime, I need to get ready to go. One of my pastor friends, Bart, made an early tee time this morning. He invited me to play with a couple of guys in his church this morning. It is a very early tee time! But it should be a beautiful morning.

They all are on the golf course!

"Take control of what I say, O LORD, and guard my lips. Don’t let me drift toward evil or take part in acts of wickedness. Don’t let me share in the delicacies of those who do wrong" (Psalm 141:3, 4 NLT).

“The delicacies of those who do wrong” cannot compare to the “meat to eat that you know not of” as Jesus told His disciples in John 4.

Lord, I thank you for helping me. I cannot imagine anything more difficult than what you have allowed me to walk through the past few days.

I’m tired. I’m weary. I need your grace and strength.

Continue to take care of this situation. And my mouth. Set a guard at the door of my lips.

“This is all my hope and peace,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus” (“Nothing but the Blood,” BH 2008, 223). Amen.
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Crisis Point

I’d better explain that title before I go further. I am using this term “crisis” in the sense that Henry Blackaby does in Experiencing God. It is not an emergency. Everyone in my family is fine. Things are plugging along, but I feel that the Lord is bringing me to a crisis point.

A crisis as Blackaby refers to it is a time or a season or a trial or a difficulty or a circumstance that causes you to be better prepared to seek the Lord and follow Him in a new direction.

This has come into focus for me over the past few days and weeks. I am in the final stages of preparation to get my book published. I’m excited about this, but more than once, I have had to read and reread what I wrote back almost two years ago.

Let me stop right here for a moment. Has it really been now almost two years since I first discovered that bulge in my lower abdomen? I can’t believe it, really.

So much water has gone under the bridge. So much has happened. It seems like lifetimes ago in many ways.

But it has been good for me to read what I wrote back then and it has reminded me of the lessons the Lord taught me.

And here is the main thing. I found this coming out of my mouth yesterday as I was with my mom and sister: “In many ways recently, I feel almost like I did the summer I was diagnosed.”

RED FLAG!

Try as I might over the past few months to avoid going there, I am afraid that I have.

You might be asking, “What on earth are you talking about?”

Well, I want to explain without getting too specific, again because I don’t think it would be appropriate. I want to mention a couple of things.

First, then and now, I have experienced severe disappointment when it comes to the hiring of new staff. Back in the Spring and early Summer of 2010, we were in process with a fine young man for a part-time youth pastor position. Things seemed to be progressing very well. He and his wife visited the church one Sunday. But, it wasn’t too many days later, when he contacted me and told me to take his name out of consideration. Of course, this was rather devastating because we were hoping to get someone before the summer—the primo time for youth ministry. I can’t begin to tell you how deflating this was.

It wasn’t just the fact that he declined. It was more than that. It felt as if this was an individual who did not esteem our church as worthy of his commitment. It felt like that. And, of course, I could be wrong. I didn’t ask him why he took his name out of the hat.

But THAT was the most discouraging element of it all. When I sense that someone does not esteem our church (for any reason, and it doesn’t have to be a potential new staff hire), it grieves me deeply and as my sister said the other day, “it makes me love our church more.”

This probably goes back to the pastoral gift again. You can’t be grieved over someone’s negative response to the church unless you love her deeply. My thought of course is, “Are you crazy? Why would you want to come here? This is a great place. Can’t you see it?”

When this happened back in 2010, we just sort of stopped looking, and we didn’t resume our search until a couple of months ago when we found another good candidate, but after a two month process that looked promising, he too turned us down and now we are almost half-way through the summer. It has a similar feel to me.

I don’t know if this makes sense, but I am trying to explain my state of mind. After reading this, some of you might say, “This guy is crazy. THAT is his problem!” Ha. Probably very true.

Second, I went through a very emotionally trying experience at the church earlier that Spring of 2010. It pushed me to the edge. In fact, I vowed, “I’m never going through this again. It is NOT going to happen.”

Well, of course, no one can guarantee that, especially in a church. Are you kidding me? Whenever you have even a couple of people together, you have the potential for conflict and difficulty.

These past few days—even on vacation—have felt like what I experienced back in 2010. Same song, different verse.

Third, I am really struggling spiritually. It is funny how easy it is for me to admit that. Of course, that is not good. What has helped over the past few days, especially last Sunday, was an extended time just to sit and be at leisure and commune with Jesus.

I have allowed the priority of time with Jesus to lag a bit. This is always what happens to me when I get busy or stressed. I thought I had learned this lesson through cancer, but I guess I haven’t.

I think the key is to be so in touch with the Lord that you sense when you are straying and immediately make the necessary changes to get back on track and do it with urgency. If I started to bleed, I would take care of it immediately. Why don’t I treat “spiritual bleeding” in the same way? I’m not sure that is a totally accurate analogy, but I hope you get the picture.

The bottom line is that these three issues are going on in my life RIGHT NOW, and I desperately need your prayers. I believe the Lord, through this crisis, wants to teach me something, and I want to be in a position to hear and respond.

The Psalm I read today gives me some insight into all of this. I do have a responsibility to be discerning. After all, our enemy likes nothing better than to pull us into a “funk,” and he will use anything and ANYONE. That is what motivates the Psalmist to pray, "LORD, do not let evil people have their way. Do not let their evil schemes succeed, or they will become proud. Interlude" (Psalm 140:8 NLT).

"I prayed, "God, you're my God! Listen, God! Mercy! God, my Lord, Strong Savior, protect me when the fighting breaks out! Don't let the wicked have their way, God, don't give them an inch!"" (Psalm 140:6-8 MSG)

I do not believe my struggles are limited to pastors. I think all of us are called to deal with these three things: severe disappointment, emotional stress, and spiritual laxity. And we don’t tend to see them as urgent, but they are a call from God. It is a crisis. And the Lord wants us to return to Him through each of them.

Lord, I thank you that you love us enough to allow difficulty, gut wrenching difficulty and hardship and pain and discouragement in our lives—not to pull us into the gutter but to cause us to RUN to you.

I confess that I am not in a good place. I acknowledge this to you and turn back to you RIGHT NOW.

Thank you for dear brothers and sisters in Jesus who are praying. I pray for everyone who is reading this who might be in the same boat. Let them allow you to work in the CRISIS POINT.

“What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus” (“Nothing but the Blood,” BH 2008, 223). Wholeness. That’s it! Amen.
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Not As Bad As We Thought

There were two reasons we drove down to the Springs yesterday. One reason was just to feel that we were able to get away if even for a few hours.

The second reason was we wanted to check out the fire damage in a couple of places we have always loved to go: Manitou Springs and the Garden of the gods.

Therefore, we ate some lunch at a sandwich shop, drove around a bit, and came to Highway 24. We turned left and headed west and it didn’t take long until we came to a sign on the side of the road—“no exits from this highway for the next twelve miles.” And there was a long line of traffic.

We very quickly decided we didn’t want to do that, so we turned around and made our way to the road that goes through the middle of Colorado City. The first place we wanted to go was the Garden of the gods, but when we tried to enter the park, we met up with a sign that indicated that the park was closed.

We turned around again, got back to the main road through Colorado City and headed west again to Manitou.

As I said, this has always been one of our favorite little towns. We would never have known about it were it not for my mom. Grandma, Leo, and their one daughter—my mom—would always make an annual pilgrimage to Manitou to escape the summer heat in Hutchinson, Kansas.

Every year, they would rent a house just off the main street and spend at least a week in this town. Invariably, my grandmother’s young cousin, Esther and her husband Dick, would join them.

I have heard all the stories of their times together in Manitou Springs every summer. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall. They had a blast together. They cooked their own food. Esther always made her world-famous cinnamon rolls and she would let them cool on a windowsill in the rental house. Eating was never a problem.

During the day, they would head into town and just walk around, goof off, and watch people. My mom said that Grandma and Esther could weave elaborate stories about total strangers they viewed on the street. Dick and Leo just laughed. My mom or “kid” as they called her sat and listened or went to get saltwater taffy at Patsy’s on the corner.

Patsy’s is still there, by the way. I’ve always loved saltwater taffy.

I could tell many more stories, but I won’t at this point. It was just a special place for five Kansans to come every summer.

In fact, Dick and Esther loved it so much that they eventually moved to Manitou. They bought a house in Chapita Park and opened a grocery store in Manitou. It didn’t do very well, apparently, and they found out that they really didn’t enjoy living in the mountains, especially during the winter. As a result, the moved into Colorado Springs and Dick became a car salesman. He loved cars. My dad bought one from him, as a matter of fact.

Well, anyway, you can see that we have quite a family history with this little town west of Colorado Springs. We always go there, just about every year.

Yesterday, as we entered the city, we could see no evidence of any fire. Apparently, officials had closed the city down for several days as a precaution, but a couple of days ago, they opened it again, and there were tons of folks walking up and down main street. We were so glad to see this.

My mom didn’t feel like getting out of the car and walking. So, we just drove up main street, made a u-turn, and headed back out of the city.

In our journey yesterday, we really saw no evidence of the fire. We looked west to the mountains and you could see a couple of places where there were wisps, not plumes, of smoke. That was about it. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t fires. It just means that we didn’t see them or any damage from them.

This was encouraging to us. I guess we were wondering if the city of Colorado Springs and Manitou and Garden of the gods were still standing! I’m glad to report that they are!

Here’s my point in all of this: just because we didn’t witness first hand an actual fire or see burned down houses—it doesn’t mean that the devastation didn’t occur.

I’m learning more and more that one of our foibles as humans is to give terminal credence to what we SEE, whether it is in the realm of natural disaster or just regular, “normal,” every-day life. If that is one’s perspective, it quickly leads to discouragement.

Therefore, it is interesting and significant to me that Paul concludes the fourth chapter of 2 Corinthians this way: "So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever" (2 Corinthians 4:18 NLT).

“We fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.” What a challenge! Deeply convicting to me. There is no greater need in my life right now than this!

But honestly, how does one do this in practical terms—see the unseen? I need to ponder this, but off the top of my head, it means believing God. It means praising God. And it means staying rooted in the Word of God.

Oh, Lord, I am grateful today that you and the things I cannot see are really the only things that are real. I praise you. I worship you this morning in spirit and in truth. I trust that you are right now taking care of things. As I look at them, they seem to be a mess. But you know the truth. Your Word is truth.

I confess my continued discouragement over the ministry issue I am facing. The weight is pulling me down.

But I choose today to lift up my eyes and look off and away to Jesus. You are the Author and Perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).

“Accept the praise we bring,
Who in all good delightest,
Thou good and gracious King” (“All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” BH 2008, 222). Amen.
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Weighed Down by Glory

First, I want to ask all of you to pray for Chuck this morning. He is one of our seniors, a dear brother in Jesus, who is preaching for me today. I so appreciate Chuck and his wife Belle. They are active participants, positive participants always (I might add) in so many ministries in our church.

A few weeks ago, I asked Chuck if he would preach for me on this Sunday, and he was glad to do it. Not long after I asked him, he called to set up an appointment with me. When he came into my office, I was a little taken aback. Why you might ask? Well, he already had his sermon prepared. And I mean, WEEKS in advance. How unusual is that, especially among those of us who serve in full-time vocational service? And I believe it is an excellent and pertinent message.

I only pray that there is a good group of folks there today to hear it. This 4th of July holiday weekend is typically not one of the most well attended services of the year. You think? I don’t blame people for being out of town or traveling. If I did, I’d have to blame myself for doing the same thing!

If my mom feels like it (and I’m glad she seemed to feel better yesterday), we plan to take some type of day trip, probably to Colorado Springs. We will see what happens.

We have struggled about doing even this. The other day, Marilyn said, “I feel compelled to be at church today to support Chuck.” I appreciate that, but as we talked about things, we felt that this might be a good thing for us to do today—a good diversion for a few hours.

Marilyn said, “I emailed Chuck to let him know what we might do and told him we wanted to listen to a recording of his message.” I will make sure we all listen to it. I try to do that with everyone who preaches at the church in my absence. I’m just so protective of the “pulpit.” It is my responsibility to protect the sheep from any doctrinal error.

Well, anyway, this post is going to be a little shorter than normal because I have a window of opportunity to spend even more time with Jesus than normal before we leave on our little trip (if we do). I need time with Him today.

I would characterize the past few days as being excessively burdensome for me. I would say that it feels as if I have been carrying a thousand-pound ball and chain. As I think about things, I’m realizing that this may be a contributing factor to the fatigue I have been feeling for the past few weeks as this “ministry issue” has been brewing.

Again, I’m sorry to be so cryptic, but I don’t have the liberty to share it. It would be wrong to do so.

This situation the past few days makes 2 Corinthians 4:17 in the Amplified Bible even more amazing. "For our light, momentary affliction (this slight distress of the passing hour) is ever more and more abundantly preparing and producing and achieving for us an everlasting weight of glory [beyond all measure, excessively surpassing all comparisons and all calculations, a vast and transcendent glory and blessedness never to cease!]," (2 Corinthians 4:17 AMP).

First, reading about what Paul went through gives anything but the impression that his troubles were “light and momentary.” Are you kidding?

As I indicated yesterday, in addition to the physical stuff (he lists some of what he has gone through in chapter eleven. I don’t want to get ahead of myself here), he has the weight and burden of not only the church in Corinth, but also all the other churches he started.

This is huge for me. I have trouble keeping track of one congregation and my own spiritual issues. I can’t imagine having the burden, the weight, and the load of multiple churches on my back.

Paul had that burden.

Second, though, 2 Corinthians 4:17 indicates that what is ahead for us is “an eternal weight of glory.” This glory far surpassing anything in this life so that all the weights and all the burdens in this life are zero!

We typically think of burden and weight (especially around my mid-section) as a negative. Paul says that our eternity with Jesus will be so glorious heavy that we won’t be able to handle it or carry it.

I go through times and seasons when I am burdened and I don’t think I am going to make it. But heaven, eternity, is a never-ending, joyous burden, that goes on forever.

Bring it on, Lord. I’m not asking to die, but I am asking for perspective on the burdens of this life. Help me with them, as I enumerate all of them, not just this present ministry burden, to you this morning.

Preach through Chuck today. Fill him with the Holy Spirit and power. Take care of the services today. Glorify yourself. Take center stage, Jesus.

God, I need you today. Help me! I’m crying out to you.

“Love in that story so tender,
Clearer than ever I see;
Stay, let me weep while you whisper,
Love paid the ransom for me” (“Tell Me the Story of Jesus,” BH 2008, 220). Amen.
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